Central Nebraska is ringing in the New Year with frigid temperatures. Yesterday, the thermometer reported -18 degrees when I read bunks at just after 6:00am. This time of year, I tend to reflect back to my high school days — sitting in a warm Florida classroom and reading Jack London’s To Build a Fire. Since learning how to winter on our farm in Nebraska, the words of the story take on a much fuller meaning…
When it turns this cold, we rely on technology — common sense — instinct — and basic care standards to protect both ourselves and our animals. In times of harsh winter weather, survival becomes intrinsically tied to the above things, as depicted eloquently by London’s story.
- Any vital equipment (feed trucks, tractors, pay loaders) is parked inside the heated shop or next to a building where we can plug in an engine heater to better ensure its likelihood of working when it is needed.
- Special fuel is used to run the equipment that makes it less likely to “gel up” and quit working.
- Crew priorities focus on the basics: feeding the cattle a special storm ration during both daily feedings that helps them to generate heat from within, frequently checking all water tanks to make sure that a constant supply of water is not disrupted by a tank freezing over, checking cattle health, and preparation for the next day to ensure that morning feed delivery (breakfast) occurs on schedule.
- Any extra time is spent working on inside paperwork/chores.
Crew members working outdoors are fully covered with multiple layers of clothing, and take frequent breaks either in the shop or in a warm pick up truck to protect against frost bite. My guys all tend to grow beards for the winter, I get out my ski mask and do my best bank robber impersonation.
London’s protagonist perishes in To Build A Fire due to his lack of common sense and employment of poor survival skills. Conversely, his dog companion depends on instinct and survives.
I think that it is fair to say that good farmers use a combination of modern technology and instinct to ensure survival and productivity during times of winter challenge. After all, it is our job to care for the animal, not be bested by him!