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Baby, it’s cold outsideBaby, it’s cold outside

Home Front: Bitterly cold weather brings big lessons and bigger responsibilities on the farm — but would you trade what you do?

John and Kendra Smiley

February 4, 2019

3 Min Read
father and son standing in field

I’m certain I don’t need to ask if you remember how cold it was last week. Schools were closed. Universities were closed. Flights were canceled. Amtrak even canceled all trains out of Chicago for two days. The U.S. Postal Service suspended mail delivery, and we were warned by various sources to stay indoors. 

I didn’t need a warning. With temperatures across the Midwest colder than in Greenland and Alaska, I was more than willing to resist any ridiculous temptation to wander outside. But …

Kendra had the luxury of staying cuddled up in her recliner with layers of clothing and blankets, but I didn’t. We don’t officially have livestock, but we have a horse that belonged to our middle son. I guess it still belongs to him, but he and his wife and kids live over two hours away in a subdivision; hence, the horse, unofficially, is mine.

The morning it was minus 15 degrees F, I went out to feed my one horse and any wild cats that appeared. That trip to the barn reminded me of the many times I helped my dad take care of cattle and hogs. The wind chill might not have been as brutal, but the temperatures were just as cold, with snow and ice on the ground. Taking care of those animals, our family’s main income source, was a big responsibility and an enormous amount of work, not just for Dad, but for my older brother and me, as well. 

On that recent cold morning in January, I reflected on the fact that although some things have changed over the years, some have remained the same. No matter how advanced our agricultural world has become, the cold, snow and ice still make caring for animals difficult.

Today, I must attend to my one automatic horse waterer to keep it from freezing. Thankfully, a heat lamp placed in the well pit keeps the farm water flowing.

The days of my youth required hours of cleaning individual pens where a sow and her pigs resided and adjusting the heat lamp over the litter of pigs. We distributed water and feed with a bucket and wheelbarrow through snow-filled alleyways. And each day when the sows were ready to farrow, we moved them from the barn to the farrowing crates.

Those days were long ago, but the responsibility current farmers have as they care for their animals, though different, undeniably still exists. “Farmers feed the world” is not just a slogan. 

As someone who married into the profession (more accurately, into the way of life), I’m thankful. Thankful for families who, at temperatures and wind chills that might make the bravest among us cringe, do what needs to be done. Thankful for the things John and our sons learned from agriculture — the work ethic, the responsibility and the resourcefulness.

Was I happy about the multiple days of subzero temperatures and the difficulties that caused on the farm? Obviously not. Would I trade what we do and where we live to eliminate those frigid days? Not a chance!

John and Kendra Smiley farm near East Lynn, Ill. Email [email protected] , or visit  kendrasmiley.com.

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