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Tuesday, 7 January 2014
The Arctic Blast 2014
Topic: Education and Values

The worst is over for this Arctic Blast and its minus 50 degree wind chills. But it's still sub-zero today (though without the wind, it does feel like a mini-heat wave).

Winter still continues for another two-and-a-half-months and – what do you think the chances are that we'll have an “early Spring”. (We've all seen snow on Mother's Day.) I'd advise everyone to keep your pantries stocked with the staples and the gas tanks full at all times. And, I doubt I'll be abandoning the mega-layers of clothing for some time.

How're the animals doing, you may wonder? Especially the cattle who live "free range"?

Well, here's a photo of the some of the cattle early this morning, after 48 hours of windchills between minus 30 and minus 50 degrees. (My phone camera “failed to initialize” after two photos in the still bitter cold, before I could photograph more. No problem, I shouldn't have left my hand out of my gloves for any longer either.)



They have the three things that cattle need to survive arctic cold: wind shelter, plenty of hay, water.

On our farm, we have several pastures that link together so that we rotate them easily between the pastures. During the time the grasses are growing, usually we move the herd of 60 plus cattle between each 20-30 acre pasture, allowing them to graze it, then move to the next in a process known as “rotational grazing.” Depending upon grass growth, they could be in a pasture one week or three weeks. During dormancy, this might be sometimes only a few days. We round on the animals and pastures twice a day to determine when to move.

But in the Winter, there is no pasture grass to graze, it's under ice and snow. Instead, the hundreds of hay bales that were made from our designated hay fields are served to the cattle, horses, and sheep. “Make hay while the sun shines” is a critical piece of advice that we quote often. We were lucky to get 4 cuttings of hay from some fields last Summer. And, as this Winter is showing, you can never say you have “too much hay.”

Hay (a dry combination of different cut and baled grasses and legumes) is the only feed allowed for Animal Welfare Approved and American Grassfed Association cattle and sheep. It is their natural diet and life-saving in bitter cold, because the digestion process of hay actually creates heat (as opposed to grain which consumes heat and can produce acidosis).

So, in the Winter, we move our cattle to a central pasture and lowlands area. They are still “free range” in this 30+ acre area, but they have natural shelter in a basin area with hills and with plenty of tall trees to provide additional wind protection. And there is a long stretch of clean, free-flowing creek. Even after the last 48 hours of arctic blast, here's a picture of one pool in the creek. The surface may be frozen, but there's flowing water available at the bank, that they are keeping open.



Our cattle eat free choice, not at specified times like in a feedlot, so there are always bales of hay available. They have “group-designated” a particularly wind-sheltered, woody area for ruminating. Incidentally, the herd has a favorite ruminating spot in each pasture, which is always under the trees, winter or summer. Lucky animals—and smart husband—each pasture is delineated to have large stands of trees, so they have the shade protection of trees in the summer.

I'm happy to report no ill-effects observed from this Arctic blast, but I caution everyone to remember, it's still sub-zero and a long time until the grass is green again! The chickens still need to be fed and watered inside their coops, they wisely refuse to freeze their feet. And, every animal that eats hay needs extra hay and water. Every animal needs wind (and rain and sleet!) protection.

And we still need every one of those extra layers of clothing!

Posted by Karen at 12:48 CST
Updated: Tuesday, 7 January 2014 13:12 CST
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