By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
No matter what the weather may be outside, a farmer’s work is never done. Each operation has different objectives as well as routes to obtain their goals, so what exactly is going on within our county for the agriculturalist? This is just the beginning of a seasonal series to be published highlighting the county farms and their endeavors.
Many of you are probably aware that I am a fifth generation farmer with a minor, bachelors, and masters degree all within the agricultural field. We run a cow/calf operation for market purposes in addition to operating a horse training and competition facility, laying hens, hay, and, when weather cooperates, a small apiary. Within the cold months, there are many precautions a farmer must take to ensure sustainability. Some of our horses winter fine with hay and supplemental grain here and there, while our off track, thoroughbred race horses require blanketing in extreme cold and grain twice a day. Our hens are fortunate to have a fairly insulated coop with regular lights and heat lamps. They also have a heated water fountain and are checked several times a day for eggs to prevent freezing. Another issue in the winter when food is scarce is the scavenger and varmint issue. Just this winter we have lost several hens due to at least one opossum before finally trapping and removing it from the property. When cows are thought to be nearing the end of gestation, we corral them into a barn with heated water tanks and fresh hay to keep a closer eye on them in case assistance is necessary. So far we have four calves on the ground, all thriving well. As soon as they’re born and have bonded with their mother, we tag them for identification and band the bulls, as a form of castration, to make steers.
Lindsey Knotts, part of her family farm being in Sugarland, has a slightly different approach to winter. “Right now in the winter, the cattle are getting fed hay and being bred for Fall calving”, Knotts stated. “The sheep are being fed hay and getting ready to start lambing in February and March”, she added. A common theme amongst all farmers this year has been the mud. Tucker County has experienced so much precipitation and warmer than usual temperatures, it has led to a lot of issues. “Down in this holler snow gets deep and drifts, so all we can hope for is not too much snow but a hard ground”, Knotts added. Another task on the Knotts farm, as well as several others, is the spring fence mending that must commence. The winter months depends on the severity of the fence damage farmers tend to see. “Soon we will begin sharpening fence posts to get in the ground once it softens again come spring”, she said. “It’s the time of the year where our hands will smell like hay wrap daily, but it’s our family’s heritage”, she said proudly.
Logan and Lydia Burns are also working diligently on their farm during these cold months with several species, one being goats. “First thing we watch for is if the nannies are close,” she explained “If they are we will bring them in the barn and put them into a holding pen with a heat lamp.” Like with any species giving birth, they monitor their nannies around the clock to watch for signs of labor and to make sure they are comfortable. “Once the nannies have given birth, first thing we do is get that colostrums (first milk) down them”, Burns stated. “We try to let them nurse from the momma’s first, but if they are being stubborn we tube them”. The couple continues caring for their new asset by putting iodine on their navel to prevent infection and ensure they are staying warm. “We just let momma do the rest”, she said. “These cold temperatures are very harsh on newborns, so keeping them warm is our main priority”, Burns concluded.
Another agricultural angle quite popular in our county is apiary’s. Paul and Alisa Poling, owners of Mountain State Honey, have a unique approach to wintering their beehives. Where smaller scale beekeepers do their best to ensure plenty of feed is readily available, condensation is under control, and the hives are protected as well as can be from the temperatures, the Poling’s bees are sunning themselves in much warmer temperatures. Poling stated, “Currently the majority of our bees are in California pollinating almonds”. He added, “The remainder is in Florida with only a few here in Parsons”.
Donald Adams from Limestone also has his hands full with his farm this winter. One thing the Adams’ offer that most others in our area don’t is raising hogs. “Right now we are getting a few litters and growing them out”, he stated on the phone. As many of the local farmers can attest, keeping the water from freezing is a constant battle during the frigid temperatures for him as well. Adams stated he has eight sows due within the next couple of months, and noted when he sees them drawing near the end of gestation he puts them in a special farrowing room with crates and supplemental heat. Up until time, he makes sure they stay happy and healthy; upping their feed during cold spells to maintain their body temperature and energy levels.
Farming on any level is not for the faint of heart. You have to be willing to work long hours in extreme temperatures, and what sleep you may get is likely to be interrupted this time of year. You have to be ready for the lows of a momma losing a baby and still are able to stand up, pat the mama on the head, tell her you’re sorry, bury her baby and go back to the house praying for better luck next year.
At the same time, as you sip your coffee of the morning and watch your calves, kids, lambs, chicks, piglets, or any other species of livestock run and play amongst themselves as the sun warms their fur, it’s easy to remember why we as farmers do what we do.