Morning At The Barn....Winter version
Get up at 5:50. Get dressed in grubby clothes held in front of the space heater so I don't freeze. Feed and scoop cats. Dress in lined Carharts (actually the cheaper Walmart version) put on the knit gloves and the neoprene gloves and the funny looking knit hat with face shield. Pull on icy cold rubber boots in the garage, knowing full well that the minute I open the garage door the temperature will drop 10degrees.
I have to use the lights because it is still dark out, but as I drive around the back of the house I see the hint of dawn..a lightening over the Blue Ridge Parkway. I can't look too long, because if I don't pay close attention I could go over the edge. And it is very steep, although I could hit a tree and slow my descent. The house is pretty close to the edge at the corner!
After I pass the house the wind sucks the breath out of me. I have to put my hand over my mouth and breathe through the cloth to take a breath. It is so cold and the wind whips up the hill. The road is a little strange here at the top. When Lee plowed the road, he had no landmarks and it doesn't always follow the roadbed, but that is where I have to dive. The snow is still here from before Christmas, but is no longer the soft fluffy stuff. It is icy and hard and slick. Not fun to drive on and worse to walk on. You need the 4 wheel drive sometimes up the hill. Or you have to back up and run for it. You may get lucky.
First thing I do is open the barn doors. Libby pees first thing. I wish she would wait to go out, but no. As the doors open you can hear the splashing. I turn on the lights and the radio and backup to the hay. Aubrey Crouch made small round bales for us the first cutting and square bales for us the second cutting. We are using up the round ones first. They last about a week in the winter when we feed hay twice a day. In late spring and summer and fall they can eat from the pastures. We rotate them to keep plenty of feed available. I use the pitchfork to fill the back of the mule with a nice, tall mound of hay. If you scratch the bale just right, the hay falls off in nice compact blankets that you can fork into the mule. If not, you have to scratch and pull at the hay to get it in the mule. Then you have to really mound it up to compensate for the lack of density.
I drive to the pasture and open the gate. I put the hay in two piles to limit arguments over whose is whose. If I am lucky, someone, either me or Lee or Tara has dumped the stock tank out last night when they put the horses in the barn. If not I have to break the ice..not easy when it can get several inches thick. Or I have to try to dump it. Not easy when it gets frozen to the ground. I connect the hose to the hose bib ( we disconnect it every night so the pipes don't freeze) and leave it running while I go get Libby. If it was colder than 30 last night, I will have left the blankets on. It is a chore to put them on in the morning when they want to get out, so they have been on a lot this winter. Libby gets put out and then I turn off the water and disconnect and drain the hose so I don't have a frozen plug in it tomorrow morning.
Now for Claire. She's a pistol and lips at me a lot. Sometimes she takes off my hat or worries some piece of clothing. I try not to let her because she could really bite me sometime. I don't want to hit her every morning and I know most times it is done in fun. So I try to keep an eye on her and not give her an opportunity. She and Libby call to each other if I am not fast enough. "Where are you?" "I'm coming. It's the human that's slow!" There are ruts and lots of icy patches so I can't go fast and lots of times it is my grip on the lead rope that keeps me from going down. They usually give me a dirty look when this happens.
After I put Claire in the pasture, I have to put my hands in my armpits as I walk back to the barn. By this time they are aching. My feet have thick socks under my rubber boots, so they are just cold, but my hands ache. I have 2 muck buckets, and put one by each stall and start scooping. Sometimes it is not much different from scooping the kitty litter. Just on a larger scale. I try to save as much of the shavings as I can...close to $5.00 a bag! Libby is a pig and steps in and paces in her stall so there is a much bigger mess in hers. Claire is clean and will go to the far back of the turnout when she can. It is too cold to have the doors to the turnouts open, so she backs up as far as she can go to go to the bathroom. Unfortunately this makes for a messy tail, but an easy clean up. Now the mule is loaded for hauling buckets to the compost pile. First I wash the water and feed buckets. Thee is usually some ice in the bottom of the water buckets , but the water from the well is warmer and helps to melt it. A quick sweep and I am mostly done.
I drive to the compost pile. There are two now. One from last year and a new one for this year. We are letting the old one "cook" for the winter. I plan on buying some more fruit trees and we'll use some then. The rest I hope to spread out in the hay fields for the next year's crop. We are looking for a cheap manure spreader. We may just broadcast it from the truck. Who knows. A quick dump and leave the empty buckets in the barn and we are done for the morning. I close the barn to keep it a bit warmer. I usually hose out the buckets in the summer, but too cold now, and besides, frozen poo doesn't stink! Or maybe it is that frozen noses don't smell anything. Either way I am done. It's off to the house and out of the clothes and time for coffee and breakfast before I have to dress for work and hit the road.