“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.