Sunday, March 1, 2015

Last Gasp of Winter, Windbreaks, and Spring Should Be On The Way

The last three days or so, we've had temperatures in the teens and twenties with freezing rain and snow which probably doesn't seem like much to everyone that live further north, but it's almost time for the cows to start calving, so I'm always worried about an ice storm, blizzard, or freezing temperatures this time of year.  Even in a blizzard, there's usually nothing to worry about since most cows know how to get out of the weather and newborn calves are pretty tough (once they get on their feet and nurse, they're off and running), but I'd still rather not have calves born in a snow storm if I can help it.

Usually we get the last snow storm or really bad drop in temperatures by late-February, so this storm was right on time, and it should will be the last major one until next winter.  Thankfully, none of the cows decided to calve early during this last cold snap. It's supposed to warm up to above freezing today, then it's supposed to warm up even more in a few days, so in about a week everything will be almost perfect for calving season to start.   If it warms up for about a week, we'll be well on our way towards Spring.       
Looking down towards the frozen pond, boy it looks cold
 I never got around to building any sort of windbreak this winter besides my stacked hay windbreak due to procrastination, getting sick a couple of times, and an aversion to spending money. But I tried to make sure I walked around the pasture every time the weather was extra miserable so I could figure out where I would place any windbreak I ever built, where I might plant some trees as a windbreak, and where exactly the cows hang out when it's not fit for man or beast outside.  

What I found out was that my experiment with stacking hay bales as a wind break didn't really work the way I thought it would.  I assumed that the worst storms would have north winds, so I stacked my bales to block a north wind.  But surprisingly, it turned out that the majority of the storms this winter didn't have north winds, the winds came from almost all directions so an effective windbreak would have to be oriented both North-South and East-West.     

I've also started to think that most of my problems in this pasture weren't wind problems, instead they were mainly things like heavy snow storms or cold freezing rains that hit during calving season.  A windbreak doesn't help at all with freezing rain or blizzard conditions, so I'm probably not going to build a windbreak anytime soon. 
The windbreak that doesn't really work as a windbreak all the time
Looking towards the makings of a windbreak that might actually work
Before the tornado hit the farm fifteen years ago, this pasture used to have trees scattered up and down the 'creek'  (it's not really a creek with running water, but that's what it's always been called).  During the tornado cleanup process, all the downed trees in the pasture were cleaned up in some sort of government program, while for whatever unknown reason, the trees on the other side of the fence in the cropland weren't cleaned up at all.  I wasn't involved at all in those decisions back then, but looked at the results now, I don't know if I'd have that sort of tornado cleanup process done again.  

The trees bordering the cropland looked pretty ragged for years from the tornado damage, but they eventually recovered.  The trees never came back into the pasture areas at all, and the only reason I can figure out is that all the stumps were also removed during the cleanup.   If only the damaged trees and downed limbs had been dealt with in the cleanup and the stumps had been left in the ground, I think I'd have trees scattered up and down the creek right now, and I wouldn't even be talking about building something like windbreaks right now.  

Those trees on the cropland side of the fence are around some sheltered low spots in the field, so I've decided to just move the fence over so that these treed areas will be part of the pasture instead of part of the cropland.  Moving a fence to "move" trees should be a whole lot easier and quicker than planting trees and waiting for them to get big enough to use as shelter for cattle.   

I'm still planning on planting some more trees for shelter around this pasture, but it's funny how it didn't occur to me sooner that I could just move the fence to get some trees in this pasture. 


  1. Compared to the brutal cold of last winter, this winter has been much more pleasant. We've gotten a fair amount of snow but nothing to be a burden and best of all, we've missed every drop of freezing rain... that is until tonight. It is supposed to start raining ice here about midnight well into Tuesday. Of all things winter, freezing rain I hate the most. But like you, I normally think once we make it to March, we have winter licked.

    Hope the calving season goes well.

    1. It hasn't really been brutally cold this winter, it just seems like it has been a little colder than normal starting with lows in the teens in November when it usually only gets into the thirties. It also seems like it got colder than normal, then it warmed up, then it got colder once again.

      Snow in the winter isn't that hard on cattle or newborn calves, but a cold rain and mud can be much worse especially for newborn calves. Freezing rain or an ice storm is the absolute worse for calves, they get soaked then they can't warm up.

      I don't have any heifers calving this year, so calving season should go pretty easy. Most of the cows know how to do their jobs, so they'll have their calves without needing any help from me. In a week or so, as soon as the chances of something like an ice storm starts to get less and less likely, what little worries I have about calving season will completely go away.

    2. Just about the time I got into a deep sleep, we lost power due to the ice. How come it always happens at night? After several hours of restless sleep worrying about what I'm going to do if we lose power longer term, and beginning to shiver, I got up and started a fire. It won't keep the house warm but it will keep the downstairs warm enough to keep the pipes thawed. Just as it was getting warmed up to the point where I could actually get some sleep huddled on the floor in front of it, bam, the electricity came back on. Now everyone is sound asleep in a warming up again house and I'm wide awake so to the computer I come to check on your calving season.

      One of our neighbors had cattle and their twin sons were my age so I sometimes went over to their house and remember their father getting up at all hours of the night some times to check his herd especially during inclimate spring weather. I always thought it was a love-hate situation. You hate to get up and have to tend to the animals in less than delightful situations but it was great to see new life (and money) being born.

    3. Mature, older cows usually don't have many problems calving so I usually just check them once a day when I'm feeding them. In an ideal world, I'd get rid of any cow that has ever had any trouble at all calving and none of her heifers would be kept as replacements so that eventually the entire herd would have "better calving genetics".

      But if I have some heifers that are calving, I'll sort them out and put them in the weaning pen close to the working pens so I can pull a calf if I have to (it's almost impossible to assist a calving heifer if they're out in a pasture) I'll check them a few times a day and I'll usually get up a few times during the night to check them.

      There's something weirdly appealing (not sure if that's the right way to describe it) about getting up at 3 in the morning and walking around in the dark with a flashlight to check on some heifers. It's not really a love-hate thing, it's something different.

  2. I LOVE it when I have those occasional epiphanies, where I realize that I can simply do things differently to solve what seemed to be a tough and/or expensive problem.

    1. I've been thinking about replacing that fence for about as long as I've been thinking about building a windbreak. Putting that fence back where it is now had it's own set of problems since it has a lot of ups and downs to deal with (it goes up a little hill then up and down a couple of slopes) and I've been trying to decide the best way to build it without a bunch of extra work or bulldozing of trees.

      By moving the fence over a little, now I can avoid all those elevation changes when I build it, and I can also "move" some trees to the pasture.

      I get the feeling that it irritates or frustrates some people whenever I'm working through stuff like this, because they think it's just laziness on my part or that I procrastinate too much, but sometimes I luck out and it works out better for me when I drag my feet about doing something.

      And, sometimes I'm just being lazy or dragging my feet for no good reason and people are right to be frustrated with me.

  3. Winter is back here in force. Late last week we got hit by one storm, and then I had to go to Denver and it was arctic there. Right now, we have about a foot of new snow here at the house and the wind is coming up.

    1. Right after I wrote that it was supposed to start warming up in a few days, every weather forecast started saying that we were going to get another cold front with the chance of snow and freezing rain on Wednesday, then it's supposed to start warming up by the weekend.

      The way they keep changing the forecast every day, I'll believe it when I see it.

      Since the cows started calving today with a couple of new calves this morning and a few cows looking like they were ready to calve any minute, I'll probably roll out a few bales of hay so there's at least a little bedding available in case it snows more than they're forecasting.