What happens on farms when the grain has been harvested and stored, hay has been cut and baled, and Iowa fields and pastures are blanketed in fresh white snow? Farmers don’t jet off to the Bahamas! Even when it’s too cold for crops to grow, farmers still have duties on the farm.
Even after the combines are sparklingly clean and put away for the winter, crop farmers don’t stop farming. The winter months are a time to prepare for the coming year by budgeting for and purchasing things like seed and fertilizer. Some crop farmers store their crops on-farm, and spend winter shipping grain from their farm to ethanol plants, feed mills, and river terminals, where grain gets loaded onto barges and shipped far and wide. Many farmers work on farm equipment like tractors and planters in preparation for spring tillage and planting. It is in this time of year that many farmers also make the final decisions about what crops to plant on which fields. A lot goes into that decision, including factors like what crop was on the field the previous year, what the relative profitability of various crops are, known disease pressure that might be in the soil on that particular field, and the soil types of the field.
Winter for livestock farmers is a bit different than it is for crop farmers. Though they still have to manage their finances and plan for the coming year, they have the added responsibility of caring for animals in the cold, windy winter months. In addition to the everyday care that farmers always provide for their livestock, special attention has to be paid to water troughs that can freeze, livestock that can get frostbite, and technology that can shut down due to cold weather and ice.
Winter brings additional challenges to beef and dairy cattle farmers, who have to feed and milk their animals every day. They provide warm bedding to every cow so she doesn’t get frostbite on her teats. When the temperature drops below zero, many farmers elect to bring newborn calves into their own homes to ensure they are warm enough; calves are very susceptible to frostbite, especially on their ears. Farmers also have to scrape pens and check cattle more often in the winter months to make sure animals are kept healthy and comfortable in the snow and cold.
Most hogs, turkeys, and chickens are lucky to be housed inside and they don’t even realize that it’s winter! For these livestock farmers, maintaining electricity and generators is crucial in a winter storm, because keeping smaller livestock warm can be a challenge. Of course, any livestock farmer has to worry about diesel fuel tractors running in the cold and keeping extra feed supplies on-hand in case rural roads become impassable in a winter storm.
For all farmers, winter can be a time to catch up on goings-on in the industry through many trade shows, like the Cattle Industry Convention and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association Trade Show, World Ag Expo, and Commodity Classic. These are opportunities for farmers to learn, explore, and reconnect with others in the industry.
Relatively speaking, the winter months can be a slower time for farmers. More often than not, they can be seen enduring the cold while working on animals, machinery, or plans for the coming year. Even though it may not seem like they’d have a lot to do once the snow starts falling, Iowa farmers have a lot to keep them busy!
Hey! I’m Kelsey Faivre, Iowa Agriculture Literacy Foundation’s new Education Programs Intern. I am an Agriculture Communications student at Iowa State University. I grew up on a corn and soybean farm in Northern Illinois and raise cattle. I am very excited to share my passion for agriculture with students and teachers across Iowa, and learn a lot along the way!