Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crops are In, What do Farmers do in the Winter?

I hope everyone is having a happy New Year!

I don't know how you spent your holidays, but I spent my break from Purdue back at work on the hog farm.  Boy, I missed it!  And miss it again already. 

Due to it being a popular question I get asked, this post is about what farmers are doing all winter.  And no, drinking coffee and eating those delicious pies farm wives make is not the answer (though winter holidays do often bring pie, speaking from experience).

One thing I noticed while I was there was the type of work being done around the area.  Due to the nasty weather we had, one answer is, "Not much."  Other days, it was a rush to get everything imaginable done!  If you follow me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), you would have noticed the differences from day to day. 

Farmers and ranchers are, as I've said many times before, master tradesmen.  In the spring and summer, there are crops to plant and care for.  In the fall there is harvest.  In the winter, there is a whole other type of battle.  Working with pigs, we have even more to do!

One major task of farmers during the winter months is to haul off all of that grain they harvested in the fall.  For many of the people I know, this is a year where they will haul more than ever before.  This is also a time for major equipment repairs.  We get by on smaller repairs as necessary throughout the year, but winter is typically a time when we will do transmission or engine work.

Many livestock producers will be hauling manure right around the new year.  When they can, they haul manure at planting and harvest in order to get the best use out of the nutrients, but in numerous cases, due to building age and past construction requirements, there is not the capacity to last all winter.  Livestock farmers, especially in the northern states where it gets very cold, spend a lot of times checking buildings, heaters, ordering LP gas to keep the animals warm, and checking/thawing water lines to prevent them from busting.  It is a difficult task to raise livestock through some of these rough Midwestern winters.  This does sound like a slightly one-sided discussion, in terms of livestock care, but I have no experience with cattle.  I can recommend that you check out this article from CNN Eatocracy that discusses different types of livestock issues in winter here.

Farmers spend a lot of time watching the weather.  They do it every season, but in the winter it is even more interesting.  Some of us live with The Weather Channel, Weatherbug, AccuWeather, or another application open on our phones.  Where I work, we have to plan ahead feed-wise.  If it is going to snow or pour rain for three days, we need to be prepared and have feed ground for our pigs at the farm, and plan for the co-op to pre-deliver feed for the contract part of the operation.  When the temperature is going to be cold, we have to make sure the hog truck is positioned so that if it's too cold to start that we can pull-start it.  We plug in our diesel tractors, and put the blade on the old Massey 135 in case we have to move snow.  One time this winter, they called for enough snow overnight that we even moved equipment around so that if we needed to get the huge snow blower out, we could.  Eight to twelve inch predictions ended up only being two inches with patchy ice.  Luckily with all the below zero temperatures we had, only one time did we have a water line freeze, so we bucketed water to sows for that day.  Fortunately, we weathered everything with little incident. 

But here I sit, back at Purdue, in two or more inches of snow, dreaming of the farm and home...  Someday I'll be back for good...  Someday soon.

I hope this was an enjoyable, informative read.  I think it's very important for consumers to know about their food supply, and the people who raise their food. 

If you have questions or want me to write about a certain topic for you, please let me know!  I'm looking for things that strike your interest!  You can find me on Twitter (@ebenkamp2013), Facebook (Samuel Ebenkamp), or email me at  I look forward to hearing from you!

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