I feel like Burl Ives as the snowman when he opens up Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer. The storms that blew in the past couple of weeks were of mythic proportions. Snow plows were called back in and drifts got as high as six feet. I’ve read some stories on here that made me cringe with what people have had to do in order to keep livestock alive and somewhat comfortable up north and mid-west.
You have to understand in Maryland snow is somewhat of a novelty. It happens occasionally and sometimes we might get a whopping six inches, which will take us days to get out from. But, for the most part we have mild winters. This year however, has proven the exception is sometimes the rule.
It started in September, when my wife read a long range ACCU-Weather forecast. According to the document, Maryland was in for one of its worst winters in recent history. “Should we stock up on dry goods,” I asked skeptically. Only to be subjected to an evil stare. “Okay, smarty, but we’ll have to see what comes of it”. Famous last words and just two mere weeks ago (in August) we were looking forward to winter.
Those were the good old days, not only have we gotten snow falls but the number of snow falls have increased this year along with the total amount. It started in November and has not let up. So the big two and a half foot snow fall that came in February hit us pretty hard. We had a hard time walking out to the barn. What usually takes a minute took forty-five minutes to dig our way to the building. Once we made it to the barn we had to dig the front and back barn doors open. When I got the tractor started (I had already put the snowplow on) I let it warm up and assessed the situation.
We had already setup the electric and run cables to all the chicken houses. We had purchased outside junction boxes to plug extension cords in and then run lines to the houses. We have a forty-six horse power John Deere tractor, which has served us well for the past nine years. Never in that time did I experience what I was about to face. The tractor has four-wheel drive and slip differential. It is equipped for this type of work. Just not the height of snow we got. By the time the second blizzard hit the tractor was used more as a battering ram then a snow plow. I would have taken the blow off and put the bucket on but we couldn’t find the bucket buried under the snow.
I spent a total of fifteen hours on that tractor in the combined snow falls in those seven days. I was bounced and jostled and at times looked like I was riding a bucking bronco. My saving grace was the seat belt and roll bar. By the end of each day the aches and pains made it seem like I was boxing. Every joint and muscle tissue was screaming at me.
The morning after the first blizzard I pulled the tractor out of the barn and went were the snow would let me. I couldn’t put the plow down because the tractor would quickly come to a stop from the snow. I drove where the snow was lowest and tried to get to the driveway and the house. Try to picture this; we have roughly forty tillable acres of land. Now on that forty acres of land and under three feet of snow is a little four inch by four inch square that has three electrical outlets. These outlets serve the hen houses, keeping the water from freezing and providing heat in the sub-freezing temperatures.
Most of you already know where this is heading and yes out of forty acres covered in three feet of snow I was able to find the electrical junction box with the back tire of the tractor. It gets better, as I was putting the tractor away for the day I decided to plow around the back of the barn. Hoping I could eliminate the slope that almost tipped the tractor over I started moving snow. I don’t think of these things until it is too late, but we had power running from the barn to the electrical junction box. What damage I did to the box paled in comparison to how I plowed the electric cord in half. After seeing the orange cord lying in a field of white I realized what I did. Sitting on the tractor after about nine hours of playing bucking bronco, I now had to string new electric to a new junction box, under three feet of snow. Good thing I ran over the junction box with the tractor and compact the snow into a brick. Anyone could have followed the cord through soft fluffy snow. I just can’t win, worse yet I’m standing in sub-freezing temperatures steam pouring out the top of my hat.
I had to trace from the break to the smashed junction box. All in all it took me another hour to get electricity back to the houses. By the end of the first day I was exhausted, my poor wife didn’t fair any better. She shoveled around the houses trying to give the birds some room to roam. I know technically they are free range, but are they really if all they have is snow to walk on?
By the time the second storm hit and dropped another two feet of snow we hadn’t really recovered from the first. We had drifts as high as five feet in some places and other areas looked like they were never touched. As I was walking out to the barn that evening I fell and when I fell I was completely covered in snow and I couldn’t get up. No problem, last I looked my wife was coming behind, I thought, so I can use her to get up. I turned back and didn’t see anything because of the snow. I stuck my hand up and waved, lifted up on my knees I could see just over the snow edge. No one was coming and I couldn’t see her anywhere. Trying my best was not making it. I would start to get up only to have my low center of gravity work against me. I was closer to the barn and decided to crawl there. I had a thought, “I am not calling 911 to have someone come and pick me up.”
I started crawling towards the barn door, as I got close I felt a large block of compacted snow from the first blizzard. I lifted myself up and triumphantly rose to my feet and raised my arms in the typical Rocky pose. I turned around to see my wife staring at me with a look I’ve seen many times. I was completely covered in snow and what facial features were showing was covered too. I explained my glee at not having to call the fire department and in her inimitable fashion she patted me on the back and asked if I was ready to continue. “I had a near death experience,” I explained to her, shouldn’t I be allowed to go back inside and collect myself first? After a brief chuckle we both headed back to barn to redo everything we had done the day before.
We had some damage but not much and did lose one chicken so we got away pretty lucky compared to others. Snows have melted and I have seen the first peak of strawberry plant coming out of the burlap covering. I’m starting to get a stronger feeling of anticipation and I’m getting ready to hook the tiller up. The plans have been set and communicated to our customers.
We’ll hold interviews this coming weekend and decide who will make up this years team. The days are getting longer and the chickens a little harder to get in at night. But it seems that things are once again starting to fall into place.
Support Local Agriculture – Find a local farm around you and go take a visit. Someone will be grateful to see you!!