The Great Winter Rollercoaster of 2016-17

The Great Winter Rollercoaster of 2016-17

Autumn held on longer than I anticipated this year, gracing us with forty and even some fifty-degree weather well into December. Winter peeked out for just over a week mid-month, but otherwise largely left us alone until yesterday. Now, as I write this, my fingers chilled from single-digit morning temps, I’m glad it did and even happier that, according to the weather experts, it will retreat again by early next week. We’ll be left with barely-below or just-above freezing temps for most of the rest of January, depending on the day. Which may not be the forties and fifties we enjoyed last month, but is a world of difference better than dozens of degrees below freezing.

While I have always been in staunch opposition to anthropomorphizing livestock, it’s difficult not to feel at least a little bit bad for them when it’s bitterly cold. My brain knows they are designed for this — the sheep with their five pound wool coats, the cows with their thick fluff and active internal furnaces, the pigs with their nesting and snuggling instincts. Plus, being domesticated, they’re pampered with the winter measures we take to make it even easier on them — deep straw beds, ample hay even for the non-ruminants, and easy-extra calories included. Still, as I’m scurrying from barn to house and back again, spending as little time as possible out in it myself, my less rational side sometimes thinks, “oh, how miserable!”

Of course none of them seem the least bit miserable, greeting us at their respective gates at chore time with the same gusto we’d see in the middle of July. Even the dogs, who have the choice to stay in the house in front of the fire, are always eager to get out. Something I cannot possibly tell you with a straight face about any of the humans around here.

The rollercoaster of swinging temperatures can be harder on livestock than flat, bitter lows. When it’s so cold it stings, at least it’s dry. Cold alone is rarely threatening to the flora and fauna that have evolved to live out in it, but cold — even if not bitter — plus wet is another story. Respiratory illness is the most common problem in times of cold and wet. For us, keeping airflow unimpeded save for wind blocks in the name of comfort, and stock density relatively low has always worked to our advantage and we’ve never had a respiratory outbreak among our bred-and-born livestock. (We did once have a bought-in show pig from another farm come down with a nasty case of springtime pneumonia, but that’s another story for another day.)

In the meantime, we’ll cross our digits and appendages in hopes that this weather rollercoaster won’t break our lifetime health streak, and look forward to the days when, once again, the air won’t hurt when it grazes our skin.

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