When the fields are frozen, there's still plenty of work to be done
February 11th, 2013
05:45 PM ET
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Ryan Goodman is a generational rancher from Arkansas with a degree in Animal Science from Oklahoma State University. He is currently pursuing a Master’s degree at the University of Tennessee, studying beef cattle management. Goodman is one of many farmers using social media to bridge the gap between farmers and urban customers. Follow his story daily at AgricultureProud.com or on Twitter and Facebook.

In the past several months, the Farmers with Issues series has featured the voices of several farmers and ranchers who try to reach out, connect, and share a window into the world of food production. Some great conversations have been launched and more than once, there have been comments implying that farmers take the winter months off.

Do farmers really have time off once the hay is in the barn and the crops are out of the fields? Personally, I take advantage of the longer dark hours to catch up on some of my favorite reading, but winter is not all rest and relaxation for farmers.

I asked a few farmers from across the country what they are up to as much of the country is hunkering down in the snow and cold.

Soil conservation and field preparation
If Texas farm wife Suzie Wilde is going to find her husband this winter, she will have to look for his tractor in the cotton fields on the edge of the Chihuahuan Desert. Daniel is busy making repairs to the fields after heavy autumn rain events. Cotton farmers like the Wildes are also employing soil conservation practices to harvest every drop of rain that falls prior to the 2013 planting season.

Read more about it on Wilde's blog – I Kissed a Farmer.

Taking care of the cattle like always
The cattle never stop eating and do not plan for a holiday. That is why Nebraska Cattlewoman, Anne Burkholder, may wish for a brown Christmas. Anne and the employees at her family-owned feedlot are busy every day in the winter feeding and looking after the cattle in her care. Winter months actually bring on added responsibilities of keeping pens clean and cattle warm.

Learn more about her work to provide responsible care on the Feedyard Foodie blog.

Equipment maintenance and adjustments
When equipment breaks during the harvest season, repairs will often be made a quickly as possible to keep things rolling. Matthew Boucher of Illinois explains that farmers will use the winter months to make permanent repairs and important maintenance on their equipment. Marie Bowers, Oregon grass farmer, says this is also an opportunity to make adjustments so this year’s harvest will be more efficient.

Putting the kids to work on a snow day
Rancher, Debbie Lyons-Blythe, does not let her kids sleep in on a snow day at her Kansas Flint Hills Angus ranch. She puts them to work feeding the cows and welcoming newborn calves into the world. Debbie gets excited about this extra help and makes sure to put on a crockpot meal to feed her hungry crew after a long day’s work.

See some great photos of calving and learn more about the kids’ work on her blog, Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch.

Working with the family: farmer style
In the past year, the Peterson Farm Brothers brought the world a fun look at farming with their viral YouTube videos, including their popular LMFAO parody, "I'm Farming and I Grow It." They are giving us another look at Kansas life with a monthly video blog of farm activities when they are home from school. The January installment shows Greg, Nathan, and Kendal feeding cows and spreading organic fertilizer.

Watch the January video and keep an eye out for another in February.

Winter is still a very busy time for farmers across the country. In fact, Emily Zweber said she sees less of her organic dairy farmer husband with his busy winter schedule. Do not let these tales fool you though; farmers still seek opportunities to make it away from the farm for some vacation time to visit friends and family or to attend educational meetings in warmer parts of the country.

There are many more farmers sharing insight to their winter chores. I have a growing list on my personal blog. Reach out and thank these folks for their dedication to growing our safe food supply in all types of weather.

Were you surprised by any of the tasks farmers and ranchers are tackling in the winter months? What are your favorite ways to pass time during the winter months? We're listening in the comments below.

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  4. corn belt farmer

    Do farmers have time off in the winter? The answer to that question is why I quit a good job so that I could spend more time on the farm. My "guys" – husband, and sons, work year round. The only difference between winter and spring or fall is that they might come closer to working 40 hour weeks. My farmers are all mechanics, so winter is the time spent on maintenence and repairs. They are always shocked by the number of farmers who hire out their maintence. Additionally, livestock need care on a daily basis. There is no such thing as a sick day on a farm if your cattle or other livestock are supposed to survive. My kids have learned that no matter how bad they feel, the cattle have to eat and drink, and there are no excuses.

    February 11, 2013 at 11:37 pm |
    • Jdizzle McHammerpants ♫♫

      I think farming is great. But lately we have been coming close to categorizing them as martyrs. It's a chosen lifestyle, so I never "feel bad" for someone doing what they apparently love. Sure, there are hard days like any other life. To say 'No Excuses" comes off as if they're forced into slave labor.

      February 12, 2013 at 10:24 am |
      • Suzie Wilde

        Jdizzle McHammerpants, I am afraid you missed the point. All Ryan and the other farmers are doing is sharing with you what happens over the winter on our farms. You are right on one point, it is our chosen path and we all love what we do. My husband always says, "If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life."

        February 12, 2013 at 12:57 pm |
      • Ryan Goodman

        Thanks Suzie. Exactly. My intent was to share with those who don't know what goes on with farms in the "off-season."

        February 12, 2013 at 4:11 pm |
      • Amber

        I think it may also to be to point out the work ethic that people who grow up on farms have versus the general population.

        February 12, 2013 at 10:54 pm |
        • corn belt farmer

          Thanks Amber,
          I know my posts are too controversial, but in the past 15 years, it has felt like we were under attack. People can only be farmers if they love what they do. They used to love it because they were their own boss, even if it meant working horrendous hours. In recent years, the government regulations and paper work require a full time bookkeeper. Many of these regulations have been instigated by an "unaware" public.

          You were right on with the "work ethic." I used to be a high school teacher. Many of our ag kids were also the top kids in their classes...including calculus, chem., and physics. Their work ethic from the farm carried over to the classroom. So, if their work on the farm was considered to be slave labor, it sure carried over into academia! Instead of criticizing this, some parents should perhaps consider instilling a sense of responsibility into their children! Did my kids complain? Heck yes! Yet one with a finance degree and an MBA is back on the farm after working in the corporate world, and another one plans to return as well.

          My entire family also keeps very on top of politics and studies issues and stances, instead of just listening to media biases. None of us want credit for being martyrs; but we also want people to leave us alone if they don't know what they're talking about and if they've never walked in our shoes. I also wish that people would consider doing a little more research about agriculture than what is given to them by the news media. The media is all about sensationalism and selling ad spots!

          Concerning livestock...if people have a dog, they know it has to be watered and fed. The same goes for livestock, but is a much bigger job. When it is 30 degrees below zero and a waterer freezes up, you have to get your hands in there and fix it or that cattle will die. This has to take place, even if you wanted a "sick day," like you might get in other occupations!

          February 13, 2013 at 9:48 pm |
  5. DebbieLB

    I'd sure like to have a winter vacation. We do try to make time for an educational meeting or two, but it is tough being gone as the cattle still need fed! Thanks for your up-close and personal view of a farmer!

    February 11, 2013 at 8:31 pm |
  6. Anne

    Thank you for including me, Ryan. Winter can be a time of great beauty, and it can also be a time of great challenge. Mother Nature seems to hold all of the cards!


    February 11, 2013 at 8:14 pm |
  7. DairyCarrie

    Thanks for sharing my blog Ryan! Right now on the farm we are battling Mother Nature's temperature swings. Below zero temps and then snow have changed for a short time to rain and then back to freezing. Lots of ice makes chores take even longer and the threat of breaking my leg walking to the barn looms in the back of my mind.

    February 11, 2013 at 6:28 pm |
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