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Surviving the Mini Ice Age
If you live in the USA, you are probably very aware of the recent mini ice age that has blown across the country this past week.
I must say, as a farmer, it was most challenging.
I must say, as a human, it was even more challenging.
Here’s a rundown of our challenges!
No Furnace: Yeah, that’s right, our furnace crapped out. We had it fixed once, and it crapped out again. Of course, all the repair folks were up to their eyeballs with other crapped out furnaces, and busted pipes. I must say that I am glad this week that I am quite fluffy, living off my body fat for warmth is a good thing. Unfortunately, you can’t notice any slimming effect from it. Maybe its the 42 layers of clothes I have been wearing. Ya, those farmer clothes also hide a multitude of sins??
Now, I’m all for living like the ancestors, it can be quite fun, when it’s at a time of my choosing, you know like summer before it gets obscenely hot, or fall, or any other time of the year where it’s not -52. Wood stove heat is a good thing, but even the stove was struggling to keep the house warmish. Yes, I say warmish as we were bouncing between 38-42 in the house. Seriously I was in a mild state of hypothermia all week. I kid you not, 42 layers of clothes, and about 50 on the bed.
Ok Ok, not quite so many. The bed was flannel sheets, quilt doubled over, microfiber blanket, comforter, a wool blanket folded over and a 100lb German Shepard who does insist on laying on top of me to sleep. Long johns, thermal shirt, wool socks, and my fingerless gloves. It did make a wonderful cocoon that was tough to get out of to check the fire, pee, and check the water. Tough not only because it was warm but because it was so heavy, I was basically stuck under all that and a dog. Always a joy to fight to get out of bed.
Frozen pipes: After living in this house for our 3rd winter, I managed to pick up a few tricks to keep things running here. Mainly, the water. First winter we found out that when they put the plumbing in this place, the ran it thru the concrete foundation and up an outside wall. The contractor we talked to about it shook his head and said major tearing up of stuff to fix it. Another wonderful thing we found out about this house is that the north side foundation and house do not meet. There is a gap big enough put your hand thru. Can you say frozen pipes? I can
One crawl space has a heat lamp in it, and the dryer vents into that space, so that helps some, and running the dryer can make the water flow on occasion. I keep a trickle going almost all winter to keep the kitchen with water. This year, the hot line froze. Oh boy, that’s a first! It’s a good thing I can wash dishes by hand with boiled water, don’t you think?
Last year we learned that the septic outflow can also freeze. That was an ugly time. Got smarter this year and put a milk house heater into that crawl space so that didn’t happen again.
I was able to keep water mostly flowing. Bathroom was good, kitchen had cold, mud room had nothing. As of yesterday, everything was working water wise again.
I do also pile old hay against the North side of the house to keep the cold air from blowing underneath, and making my bedroom floor a skating ring!
Critters: One of the cool things about sheep is their rumen. That sucker acts like a furnace for them. If they have food marinating in it, they are all good! I wish this week I had that option for me. Of course, to keep themselves warm they were pounding down the hay. I also upped their intake with daily grain dumps. They were quite frosty on the outside, but if you stuck your fingers down into their wool their skin was nice and warm. All that wool and lanolin is fabulous insulation for them. Lucky boogers! Only one slightly frost bit ear on my oldest and first ewe Lucy. She does not appear to be suffering for it, and I am keeping an eye on her in case she does develop an infection.
The dogs seemed to enjoy themselves in this weather. Please don’t get all “take them inside” on me. If I had tried, they would have destroyed everything to get back out. I made the mistake of trying to put them in the barn one storm a few years ago. They dug under the wall to get out and caused more damage to themselves vs just staying out to start with. They live for this weather. Double coats, bred for the cold, they are uniquely adapted to this stuff. Two were sleeping on top of the hay bale, and the other three were under the bale feeder burrowed into the loose hay and surrounded by a ring of sheep as a further wind break. They are not stupid. They will also all pile up in their calf hut shelter, which is full of hay as bedding, and they will convince a sheep or two to climb in there with them as a wool coat on the hoof.
Its comical to see them come marching out in the morning. Dog. Dog. Sheep. Dog. Sheep. Dog.
The ponies stayed in the barn. Both did good. Even my old boy with Cushing’s came thru better than I thought he would. He was shivering, even with a wool blanket on, lots of hay, and warm mash twice a day. But he is still here! Losing him, which I know some day I will, is going to devastate me. He is my first horse and my Robyn and I brough him home the morning of our wedding day. It would be one more huge loss I don’t want to bear.
Coyotes: The pack in the area was moving around quite a bit. Pretty much any time of the day I was outside, I could hear them howling. I know they were close to, if not actually on, my property. Sheep did not have much out of corral time, just enough for the dogs to eat their food in peace before we marched them back in. They are much safer in there with the dogs. Made sure we were standing overwatch on them too. My fences are not good enough to keep the dogs in the pasture, which is why they are in the corral. I “hope” to get that fixed next year.
Tractor: Long time readers know about my almost 70-year-old tractor. While she is a good girl most of the time, she is very anti cold. Sorta like me. Could not get it started to move a few bales of hay. I don’t blame her really. I didn’t want to get started either. No amount of sweet talk to her convinced her to make the effort. Even stroking her metal arms in conjunctions with the sweet talk, did no good. Thankfully I have a great neighbor, and fellow rancher who understands this weather, and he came to my rescue. He understands this weather so well that he sent his boys over with their truck and hydrabed to move my hay! Baking this week will commence as a thanks.
Water: The dance of the frozen water buckets commenced, and it is still going on today. If the barn critters don’t drink it fast enough, it just becomes a big ice cube. I was swapping out buckets 3 times a day, so they had good water to drink. The corral tank stayed ice free with the tank heater, the pasture tank was a solid block, but since nobody was in the pasture, I didn’t worry about it too dang much. Thankfully it didn’t crack. Everything was so fricken brittle. I am also thankful that the hydrants outside did not freeze, and the lines were buried deep enough. We did have to bucket water to the corral tank, I was sure the hose would shatter into a million little frozen pieces if I tried to use that. Still, nobody got dehydrated!
On Demand Hot Water: We put an on demand hot water heater into the house when we were forced to remodel the bathroom. I say forced because you took your life in your own hands if you sat on the toilet. It was about to do an ass dive into the crawl space below and take you with it on the ride. The original builders did not shore it up but left it sitting on particle board. You can imagine how well particle board holds up under a toilet in a bathroom. Yeah.
Did you know on demand hot water heaters cannot manage to make hot water when the incoming water temp is about 12 degrees? I did not either. But boy did it start yelling at me when that cold water hit its delicate insides. I suspect it was shriveling up just like other parts (use your imagination) do when the cold hits them. Alas, no shower for several days, just a sponge bath with boiled water in the bathroom sink. Again, going back to the days of our ancestors, or hunting camp, take your pick.
It did finally resolve its cold-water issues on Friday around noon.
Outside Farmer Clothes: After my humorous and quite frankly, well read, article on “Do You Want To Be A Farmer or Rancher”, I gotta say, my farmer clothes did not hold up to the mini ice age. In addition to the regular clothes, I added in long johns to the mix with very little extra warmth. I found my boots are too tight for two pairs of socks, and my box of knee-high nylons seems to have gone with the wind. My commercial merino wool socks just did not cut it. They had gotten pretty threadbare from past use, and which I had neglected to replace during the summer. My bad.
I think I shall have to use this excuse to spin more Merino wool into sock yarn and get the CSM going to make me some new, warmer, fluffier socks. Help Judy W!!! I also need to invest in some thin silk socks.
Gloves were also not so shiny. Even adding in the military wool glove liners did not do squat. I had to wear these layered in Robs outer gloves, so you can imagine just how long my fingers got, which made things really tough to manipulate. For those of you who did not get the pleasure of meeting my Rob, he had ginormous hands. He always had a tough time finding any kind of glove that would fit. Truly, his hands were literally twice the size of mine, and mine are not tiny little delicate things.
Numb feet and hands really made doing anything outside miserable. We could only manage about 10 mins outside at a time before we had to go in and thaw out.
We spent the better part of Saturday and Sunday, after the front passed, doing catch up/fix up work. Got the barn cleaned out, got the pasture tank thawed out, got wood to and into the house for the stove, washed clothes, washed dishes, took showers (yahoo!), got the tractor started, moved one more hay bale, and in general enjoyed the balmier weather.
Kind of funny to think that 10 degrees and sun is balmy weather, but it was. Actually broke a sweat cleaning out the barn.
It does not appear that any pipes burst, and none of my appendages fell off. I count this as a win.
HAHAHAHA We all beat your ass mini ice age!!!
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