December on the Farm

The last of the geese are going over, and I get up one morning to find the lakes froze over. I was bundled up and still not as comfortable as the cattle looked today. They were half dozing, dreamily chewing their cud splayed out indifferent to the rock hard ground. They are getting more and more hay as time goes on and the stockpiled (set aside and saved) grass and annuals is about gone and it will be next April before the grass starts growing much again.
The snow that we get in winter is always looked on as a mixed blessing. It makes it harder to accomplish chores, but it will provide critical moisture next spring if spring rains are poor. I count hay bales, divide by the number of days until grass should start making up most of their feed again. How many head do I have, and will I have enough? How tough will the winter be? How much more rain to we need to fill the root zone of my soils? How deep are my plants roots, will we get a nice snow pack and will it melt slow enough to allow the moisture to soak in instead of running off to the streams? Luckily the life and organic matter in my soil has provided the pathways and best opportunity for any snow pack to melt and soak in, and I’m in the best position to weather whatever winter throws at me, and despite the questions, I generally just don’t get stressed.
Normal highs are in the 30’s and low’s in the teens, and we get a nice day in the 40’s and 50’s once in a while to cut up and split fire wood, pick some kale from the garden, or complete some other task that didn’t get done before winter set in. It is nice that work slows down, as by now I’m usually sporting a case of tendonitis or a sore back / neck and it is a nice time to recoup. By the end of the month, my biggest activity will be having Lop my border collie dog take me for a walk. Morning and night, we walk out and back on the deep wooded cut that runs up the east side of the Coteau here east of Gary, sun, snow, calm, or blizzard. Down off the flat among all the trees the wind is not the enemy, but just soul soothing sound sighing through the tree tops. With some snow on the ground, we see deer, turkey, rabbit, mouse, and squirrel tracks. The dog detects a lot more then I do. He sees with his nose, and his eyes pick up movement better then mine. If the animal freezes, then I have a little edge. The great horned owls keep the small animal population mopped up, helped by the coyotes that also take the road kill and sickly deer.
Occasionally I’ve seen signs of foxes and least weasels, but life is treacherous for these animals and my place is a tiny respite in their much larger range. I know that the small weasels, and even the fox, help me control my pocket gophers in the warmer months. When checking my gopher traps in recent years I have found some that are eaten on from the tunnel side. The only thing I can think of is that the least weasels are small enough to get into the gopher tunnels and get after the gophers from the underground end. Anyone out there love to trap pocket gophers and fix machinery. Both are jobs I’d love to farm out.