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Winter on the Farm: Successes and Struggles

The Withingtons Getting The Cows Into The Barn

One thing that is for sure is that farmers don’t get a snow day.

As a matter of fact, if a farmer was to punch a time card they would rake in the overtime hours keeping the farm running as they battle the extreme winter weather. Winter certainly causes many challenges for the a farmer but with the struggles comes many positives to make farming successful and enjoyable.

Success 1: Cows Love Colder Weather
Cows ideal temperature is 45 degrees Fahrenheit. This means that cows are easier to get breed in cooler weather, milk production goes up, and there is less stress on the cow when calving in cool weather. Cows are outside grazing more (when grass is available), sunbathing, and enjoying life when it is cold outside. Happy cows make happy farmers.

Struggle 1: Short Days
Farming can be a 24 hour a day job. It doesn’t end because the sun goes down. In the winter there are less daylight hours to get work done. It becomes a struggle to accomplish daily goals when you are losing 4 hours of workable daylight. It makes daily tasks harder to accomplish and although you we often retire earlier in the winter months we still are forces to work in the dark. Thankfully, someone very special, invented a the head lamp.

But, not only does less daylight make it harder for the farmer, but it affects the animals as well. A perfect example are the chickens. Less daylight equals less eggs even though they consume to same amount of food. Less eggs translates into less money to be made.

Success 2: Carharts are Awesome
One of the best parts about winter is that you can bundle up in awesome Carharts and as you get warmed up you can take off layers. Sweating is not an issue in the winter making choreing more enjoyable and more productive.

Struggle 2: Equipment Failure
Cold temperatures make it hard for equipment to start and run properly. Everything breaks when it is cold. Why? It is a mystery! But ask any farmer and I am sure they will agree with me that farm equipment is warm blooded.

Success 3: Lower Electric Bill
One of the greatest expenses on Lilly Den Farm a farm is the electric bill. However, winter always brings a lower, much lower, electric bill and that makes a farmer smile, BIG! During the winter months the fans do not have to run to keep the animals cool, cooler and freezers don’t have to work so hard to keep the products cool or frozen, and the air conditioner is not running to give the farmer a little relief from the scorching heat of the summer.

Struggle 3: Water
A single cow drinks 50 gallons of water a day. When it is below freezing for long periods of time keeping the water flowing can be challenging and often take up an entire day’s labor. Below freezing temperatures causes pipes to freeze and often break, ponds to freeze, creeks to freeze making access to water impossible for the cows and other animals on the farm. What is not a chore on a typical day become a day(s) long chore. It is safe to say that freezing temperatures, especially multiple days of freezing temperatures, make it a true struggle on any farm.

Success 4: Less Flies
The best part about winter is there are little to no flies and that is AMAZING. Animals and humans are more comfortable. Enough said!

Struggle 4: Chickens
As mentioned earlier, shorter winter days cause egg production to drop significantly, but that is not to only effect winter has on chickens. On extremely cold nights eggs will freeze and crack making, an already reduced egg production, even less. In addition, it is hard to brood baby chicks because it is hard to keep barns warm enough to provide a save growing environment . Temperature control becomes a struggle. Farmers take a real risk raising chicks in the winter.

Success 5: New Year, New Goals
With every new year come new goals and increased motivation for the upcoming spring. The new year brings a fresh start. I think it is safe to say that this is a wonderful thing for all professions.

Struggle 5: Slow Markets
This is the greatest struggle for the small family farm that sells the majority of its products locally at farmers markets. For one, most markets do not go year round but for the markets that do the attendance drops significantly. It is harder for the farmer to connect to the customer during the winter months making it harder to bring in money. Winter is the slow season for farmers but when I say slow I mean slow to make money. The work doesn’t slow down and the expenses to run a farm is still there.

Ways to Help Support Local Farmers in the Winter:

  1. Visit your local Year-Round Farmers Markets:
    – Pittsboro Farmers Market runs year round at Main Street Station from 3:00-6:00
    – Lilly Den Farm is at Carolina Brewery every Saturday in Pittsboro from 10:30-1:30
  2. Pre-orders:
    Contact your local farmer to place an order to be picked up at the farmers market, off the farm, or delivered. Pre-orders make it easy for the farm and always makes the farmer smile.
  3. Order Bundles:
    Lilly Den Farm offers a variety of monthly bundles that are deliver to you. This is a perfect way to support your local farmers especially of your can’t make it to your local farmers market.
  4. Join a CSA:
    Lilly Den Farm offers a year round CSA. It is a perfect way to support your local farmer. Vegetable farmers don’t always offer winter CSAs but they begin signing up members for their spring CSA in the winter months.
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