The car thermometer read -19 degrees on our way home from a Super Bowl Sunday gathering. Weather this cold conjures up novelties like reading a book in front of a roaring fireplace and sipping a cup of hot tea. But, alas, we are ranchers.
All across North Dakota in the wintertime, there are men, women and children who put their needs second to those of the livestock on their farms. When the air temperature becomes uninhabitable to most anything and the wind feels like a burn across your skin, livestock continue to dwell outside and in barns; their care only increases in order for them to thrive. And so, we, as the animals’ caretakers, need to be in the elements providing for our most vulnerable.
We have cattle, sheep and chickens to care for on a daily basis. In addition to the hide, wool and feathers covering their respective bodies, our livestock and poultry need to eat more in the winter to stay warm. Keeping ample calories accessible at all times is key to helping their bodies regulate their internal temperature.
Do you know how long a simple bucket of water can turn into an ice weapon with a handle in -20 degrees? Not long. Having adequate water supply available throughout the winter is a constant battle. We empty out water pails and refill pails with water many times to ensure our sheep stay hydrated. The water tubs in the chicken coop inevitably turn to ice every day. Luckily, all of the cattle have access to heated water fountains. But even those can freeze up in the worst of conditions.
Creating a warm bed for the animals ensures they can rest in a space where there is a buffer between the frozen ground and their bodies. The chickens have woods chips and nest boxes lined with straw in the coop. The sheep have straw bedding in the barn. The cattle, which live outside year-round, bed down in thick piles of straw or corn stalks. When Doug spreads bedding for the cattle, they react with such excitement as a child in a ball pit.
So, the next time you put on your slippers and relax in your home while the temperatures take a nose dive, take a minute to appreciate the ranchers who continue to provide top notch care for their animals so our nation can continue to be fed.