A Bit of Preparedness

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Photo by Joanna Will

Time is flying faster than I can ever remember, and I’m sitting, somewhat unexpectedly, in front of a woodstove beating back subzero temperatures and a snowstorm outside. Our part of Kansas has rarely seen zero degrees Fahrenheit in the past seven or eight years, much less minus 13 degrees. It’s been so long that we’ve had to dig deep into the recesses of our memories to construct the list of things that need doing to keep the farm running in the brutal cold.

We’ve had to run the dryer in the barn bathroom to keep the pipes from freezing. We just never got around to installing a proper heater in that space, and we’ve made it through most cold snaps unscathed. We’ve been hauling in extra firewood, even as the woodpile in the shed gets perilously low. I feel a little like the fabled grasshopper who tarried while the industrious ant toiled, but the fact of the matter is that we never could’ve predicted a cold snap of this magnitude and duration.

We try hard not to get caught short on hay and shelter for the sheep. We graze them on stockpiled pastures into December, and then feed them hay by unrolling bales in areas that need a boost in fertility or some brush trampled. This year, we had a short hay crop, and we figured we’d be fine, but I bought 60 additional thousand-pound bales, because in the dead of winter, hay provides energy for the ewes and their lambs and keeps them warm. I’m so glad I bought the extra. We also have shelters set in the lambing pastures to offer cover for the animals if desired. Most of the time, they don’t use them, even if we put heat lamps in them. But yesterday, we hollowed out a large area in the hay barn and set up a warming station for the lambs at one end in preparation for the predicted minus-35-degree windchills for the next couple of days. The hay barn is snug and well-ventilated and makes good emergency shelter. So far, only the bottle lambs are taking advantage of the heat lamps, while maybe a third of the ewes have bedded inside. Most of the lambs chose other areas in the barn to snuggle into the hay.

While I’m out replenishing the firewood stores and feeding hay today, I know I’ll reflect on how to be better prepared in the future. I never predicted two weeks of subfreezing days and nights. Thirty straight days over 100 degrees in July and August is much more common. Adapting to moving preparedness targets is part of what makes life interesting to me, but in these times, it adds considerably to feelings of uncertainty and anxiety. We try to be sufficiently prepared to manage those feelings. Sometimes we keep them at bay, and sometimes we don’t. If you experience seasonal anxiety around how well you’ve prepared for any uncertainties, I’d love to hear about how you manage them. Send me a note at HWill@MotherEarthNews.com, and we’ll try to run some of your preparation tips in a future issue.

See you in June,