Dealing With Winter Cold

Living in a rather extreme winter climate we get questions about how we deal with the cold.

I’ve always been a prairie girl so winter is commonplace to me. Yet it was not until I moved to the farm that I understood what it is to live with the cold.

Since we raise livestock we have no choice but to be outside for at least a portion of the day, even on the bitterest cold days of winter. Taking care of livestock is a physical activity at our place, so you are seldom standing still for long. Dressing well is the key and provided I’m dressed in a few layers, I can stay comfortable in temperatures down to minus 20 degrees. When I was in the city minus 20 would have kept me indoors. Now I find minus 20 to be quite pleasant as long as it is not accompanied by strong winds.

When it gets colder than minus 20, I begin to feel the pinch. Fingers are the first thing to freeze and when they do it becomes very laborious to manage simple dexterous tasks with the hands, like unfolding a leatherman knife. Eyeglasses are very cold on the face, and taking off the gloves, even momentarily is going to net you cold fingers.

In temperatures approaching minus 30, you work quick, and you pay attention to getting cold. If fingers and toes start to lose feeling you go back inside to warm them up. You discover tricks like using the exhaust pipe of a running vehicle to warm your hands or unzipping all the top layers and jamming your hands into your armpits to warm them.

The sheep fair very well in the cold. They seem unhindered in temperatures of minus 20 or above. They sleep slightly apart from one another, they get up with ease and go about their business of eating.

The colder it gets the tighter they sleep to one another. On very cold days they are reluctant to rise; perhaps wanting to enjoy their bed of communal warmth for a little while longer. I understand the sentiment. When they do rise some of them will limp due to cold feet. A few minutes of walking around however, seems to do the trick. Their bodies will be hunched again the cold and their movement has more of a hitch to it, rather than being a fluid walking motion. And they need to eat more as the majority of their calories will go to staying warm.

Right now it is mild for February. The sheep do not even use the straw bedding in the night pen area. They spread out and bed on the bare ground. If we are slightly late in getting out in the AM they are already up waiting for the gate to open.

The real downfall of cold weather is any problem having to do with water, like water bowls freezing or home sewer pumps acting up. Everything is frozen or will freeze in short order if not insulated well.

When I lived near the city I spent less time outside during the winter and I dreaded the season. On the farm I spend more time outside and while the winter season is not my favorite it has become very tolerable and mostly pleasant.


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