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Warm Winter Woes

Posted 2/2/2017 9:53am by Kinley Coulter.

     Winter has finally arrived in Juniata County... at least according to the calendar.   It might surprise you to know that this unseasonably warm weather is not always a blessing for our farm and animals.  Warmer days and mildly frozen nights... as well as rain instead of snow... produce 'cold and flu' season for the animals.  They do much better in good cold, dry or snowy weather.  Drizzle in the 30's is far harder on the animals than zero degrees and sunshine...even when they are in barns.  


     We also face challenges with protecting our soil in warm winter weather.  When the animals are outside on thawed ground, soil compaction and erosion rears its ugly head!  So, whenever the ground is thawed and wet, we must put all 250 head of animals into the barns on Certified Organic bedding ($150/day plus labor for bedding... yikes!), until the ground freezes again.  The animals and the farmer are much happier (and wealthier!) when cold weather settles in and everyone can enjoy nice, frozen ground.  Believe it or not, warmish weather is a worse problem for us than cold and snow.... who would have thought?

     A warm winter with minimal frost depth in the soil is a disappointment in another way, as well.  Bitter cold weather serves as a 'miracle drug' to combat soil compaction by fluffing and heaving the soil as it freezes. Grass has a hard time thriving in the spring and summer in soil packed and firmed by animal and tractor traffic the previous growing season.  A warm winter reduces our hay and pasture productivity...  even the lowly earthworms, not to mention the grass and clover roots, appreciate the light, fluffy soil that a cold winter restores, .

     The final 'grumble' we would have about a warm winter is that our 2, 4 and 6 year old girls can't get out and 'run off their wiggles' by sled-riding and bombarding each other with snowballs.  The ice rink has only yielded one good night of skating, so far... which leaves the 14, 17, 19 and 21 year old hockey players with excess 'wiggles', too.  Rebecca finds a house full of 7 children with lots of unchanneled energy to be a 'sore trial' by February.  Oh well, spring is just around the corner!

     So, we have quite a laundry list of challenges with 'unseasonably warm' winters. The sad part is that if February turns cold, you'll all have to put up with the laundry list of difficulties that COLD winters bring... :)   All of that being said... nothing beats long, quiet winter evenings enjoying some family time while soaking up toasty warm wood-heat in the house... whether it's cold and dry OR warm and wet outdoors... we are Blessed!