February 2, 2011
The old adage, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” doesn’t just apply to the U.S. Postal Service anymore. When schools, government offices and businesses shut down due to blizzard warnings and subzero temps, livestock farmers are still out in the brutal weather to make sure that heating units and water lines are working to keep their pigs, chickens and turkeys safe. The same is true for cattle and sheep farmers, who make sure their animals have water, stalks for bedding and plenty of food.
I had the opportunity today to follow Jon McClure, a farmer from Dallas County, as he delivered rolls of corn stalks and hay to his cattle. While most people in the city were still digging out of their cul-de-sacs and checking road conditions from their computers, McClure was moving five-foot drifts of snow so he could get food and bedding to his cattle to maintain their health. Knowing that the health of his cattle depended on him braving the arctic weather, there wasn’t a question of whether or not he’d do it. This was after McClure spent the night periodically checking on the cows as driving snow and 40 mph winds created near white out conditions in central Iowa. All the while making sure that his herd was fine through some of the worst conditions Mother Nature could throw at him.
McClure’s round the clock attention was even more critical because his cows are just entering calving season. He was quick to say that although the cows can give birth by themselves, it is crucial to get the calves into the warmth of the barn as soon as possible to prevent the calf from freezing to death by wind chill temps hitting a negative 30 degrees.
After watching McClure and many of the other farmers across the state, I always know that when severe weather strikes; whether it be in the gloom of night, driving rain or a blizzard of snow they will be out in it caring for their animals.
Written by Joe Murphy
Joe is a photographer and writer for Iowa Farm Bureau.
December 14, 2009
“BLIZZARD WARNING!” “Snow accumulations of eight to 14 inches!” “Heavy wind may push drifts to seven feet or higher!” The constantly streaming weather updates from harried TV meteorologists certainly got everyone’s heart racing. How did you watch the “worst blizzard in 38 years?” Through the safety of your frosted urban windowpanes? For most of us, any snow storm is a force of nature to be observed from a distance. Unless of course, you can’t.
Out there, in the snow, in the wind and the ice, Iowa farmers are risking their lives to check on livestock in their care. During a full-on Iowa blizzard, animals can die if the generator gives out in a hog barn; cattle can become disoriented, panic and wander into ravines and freeze while alone, exposed to the full wrath of Mother Nature. And, even the toughest farmer can do the same.
While I was watching steam rise from my hot mug of chocolate from the safety of my West Des Moines living room, Churdan farmer Jim Brown was zipping up his Carharts to check on his cattle. The pasture on his farm has drifts of six feet or more. That meant he had to walk the mile to the pasture to check on his cattle and make sure they’re safe in the windbreak shelter.
How do they handle the subzero windchill? “If it is going to get really cold, we give the cows a little corn. Corn takes more energy to digest than hay thus helping the cow stay warmer,” says Brown. “Don’t think I’ve ever lost a cow because of the cold; however, calving in the spring can be a different story. I’ve warmed a few calves up in our bathtub.”
I mulled over Brown’s last words after wrestling two hours with a snow shovel on our front sidewalk. My little dog stood watch from his warm spot inside the front door as I scraped ice in the subzero weather. While many can relate to doing whatever is needed to keep their family dog or cat safe, how many can relate to risking their own lives or going the extra mile for animals that aren’t pets? It’s just part of the “calling” that is farming for Jim Brown and the hundreds of other Iowa farmers out doing their best, when nature is doing its worst.
Written by Laurie Johns
Laurie Johns is Public Relations Manager for the Iowa Farm Bureau.