Country Living Series

Thursday, November 13, 2014

A close call

Well the anticipated bitterly-cold temperatures in the wake of the Aleutian Islands typhoon have arrived with a vengeance. We've had lows of 10F and highs of 22F.

It's not that it's really that cold -- we've had colder weather in terms of absolute temperatures -- but it was (a) a sudden plunge after a stretch of relative balminess; and (b) it was accompanied by a nasty north wind that added a wind chill factor hovering around 0F.

Additionally, 99% of the time our prevailing wind direction is from the southwest. Accordingly we've built animals shelters (bull pen stall, barn awning, etc.) to provide shelter from the prevailing wind. However this was a contrary wind, and it chilled the poor animals badly.

On Tuesday morning (about 12F and windy) I went out to feed everyone. Polly, who was in the bull pen with her calf and a few other critters, was reluctant to come out of the shed. When she finally did, she had an arched back and looked sunken, and she was trembling. But she was eating, at least. I told Don it was time to get her and her calf out of the bull pen, so we gathered the troops and scooted her and her baby out. She immediately began feeding from the feed boxes.

A couple of hours passed by and I was bundled up and working outside since snow is expected later in the week. All of a sudden I heard a terrific commotion of stampeding livestock crashing through the woods, and from inside the bull pen our bull was bellowing. I dashed into the house and grabbed the cell phone and ran down to the woods.

To my horror I saw Polly, flat on the ground. Flat. She wasn't dead but she looked like she was dying. The other animals were stampeding around her. I grabbed a stick and straddled Polly's head and started aggressively whacking noses, while punching in the house phone number. When Don answered, I screamed into the phone, "Polly's down! She's flat on her side in the woods!" I almost added that he should bring the shotgun, because I honestly didn't think she would make it.

Poor Don hadn't heard the commotion in the woods (he was inside the house when it happened), so to suddenly have a hysterical wife on the phone was alarming, to say the least. He was there within two minutes and grabbed a stick as well, to ward off the other cows who seemed determined (for some reason) to trample Polly (I think out of excitement, not aggression). We shouted and whacked noses and scattered the herd. Polly managed to rise to a lying position. Then to my surprise she was able to get slowly to her feet, albeit shakily.

"Take her up to the barn," said Don, "and I'll keep the others away."

I didn't have a lead rope, but I took the ring on Polly's halter and slowly led her up the slope toward the barn. I was astounded and grateful she was walking, and we made it without incident into the corral, where I shut her into the barn.

From somewhere, Don produced a horse blanket (don't know where he got it, a yard sale or something, but God bless him for it) and we draped it over Polly's still-trembling body. It was far too big for her, of course, but we buckled and tied it as best we could.

The fact that she didn't fight it meant it clearly was doing her some good. It cut the wind, at any rate.

We managed to scoot Chuck, her calf, in with her as well, and the animals curled up in the barn for the remainder of the day. Matilda and her yearling calf Amy, who usually stay in the barn, shared the space as well.

Don stapled a tarp against an open side to the barn in order to cut the wind.

Polly's been eating well and chewing her cud, both critical indicators of a cow's health, so I think she'll make it. I don't know if she was suffering from hypothermia or what, but it frightened me to death to see one of my favorite animals in such desperate condition.

(As an aside, a neighbor with extensive livestock experience came over to get his horses from our pasture, where they'd spent the fall. When I told him about Polly, he said "Let me know if you need help with anything." His meaning was clear. If Polly needed to be dispatched out of her misery, he was volunteering to do the job. I was more grateful than I could say.)

We're going to keep Polly and Matilda and their calves in the corral until the cold snap breaks. Jerseys aren't as cold-hardy as Dexters, so a little extra pampering may help.

We haven't neglected the other animals either. We've made sure the feed boxes are full (digestion is a significant factor in keeping livestock warm).

I spread a bale of older (non-edible) hay in the bull pen shed for extra warmth (the flash picked up the debris in the air in this photo).

The chickens have straw, heat lamps, and insulation in their coop.

We've had clear skies despite (well actually, because of) the cold. Here's some alpine glow.

I just hope we get through the rest of winter without any more heart-stopping excitement.


  1. Whoa.
    That account of events has me stirred up just reading it!
    Sounds like a very close call.
    Isn't it amazing how tough and resilient they are?
    It's hideously cold here, too, with that same fierce, biting wind. It's beautiful and sunny, though, so that's good.
    Here in the dense woods that wind brings its own dangers. I dodged fallen limbs on the way home last night, and several places are without power. We've had some of the worst wind gusts we've ever experienced here. It's rattled and shaken the house.....the very heavy, strong, brick, planted-in-a-rock house.....and that'll definitely get your attention....especially at night.

    It feels like it's gonna be a hard winter.


    1. we were informed it would be bad, n e ohio, now say not as bad as last year but terribly freezing and snow already. maybe just the suddenness of the drop but sure feels like it will be worse than last winter. trying to get supplies enough to last in an ice storm. we have gas wells on the property so thank God for that.
      deb h.

    2. Some years ago I spent a few winters in that part of your state, and winter there is seriously hard.
      It's good to know you're getting set up to hunker down if necessary, and the gas wells sound like a real blessing.
      Let's hope this winter is milder than we're thinking it may be. I think I'm good to go wrt supplies and water, but here's hoping I don't have to resort to them. Stay warm and keep us posted on how you do.

  2. I'm really glad Polly is doing well, Patrice. It's funny, after a while, you learn your fellow bloggers favorite animal's name.... Every so often there comes along an animal that just steals your heart. I have one goat that did.

    Fix Don an extra special treat. It's hard on our husbands when we give them such a scare. (-:

    I hope all continues to turn out well. Stay warm!


  3. I've often seen used horse blankets for sale and have thought about purchasing one for just such an occasion. Maybe I should make it a priority. Glad she's okay!
    God richest blessings on you all!
    Mary Beth

  4. Last year's Polar Whatever things did the same even down here. The initial cold and wind were not all that bad as they came in from the North or Northwest which we are use to. It was after they had dipped so far South of us and were on their way back and the frigid air/wind came up from the South and East as it retreated that we got hammered. Just hadn't really protected ourselves as well from those directions.

  5. Poor Polly! Thank goodness you were there, Patrice, and reacted so efficiently, horror notwithstanding. Please, keep us updated.

  6. Oh my goodness, How I hate those two words, " down." Anyone with animals knows what that means.

    To think of your sweet Polly on the ground, unable to get up, is just too awful to contemplate. A horse blanket! What a great idea! Yay, Mr. Lewis!

    Is it possible the other animals made a ruckus to get your attention?

    Just Me

  7. We worked hard to ready our farm for the uncharacteristic cold, extra feed, heat lamps, water de-icers etc. But today our little Silkie hen fell into the horse trough, it was very fortunate that I found her. She was soaking wet in the freezing cold, so now there is again a chicken in the bathroom. It's always something!

  8. Patrice....You might want to keep a couple sacks of DDG (Dry Distillers Grain) or soybean meal on hand. Just a little bit on those really cold winter blasts helps heat from the inside. Just be careful because too much will scour them. DDG is about 26% protein and Soybean meal is about 41%. I just top dress their feed in the bunk on those really cold nights. Keep warm! Idaho Bill

    1. Good advice. I've been topping off my sheep that way. It makes them happy and warm, and makes me sleep better at night.

      A. McSp

    2. We do much the same with shredded beet pulp. We get the stuff with added molasses for extra calories. All our critters (goats/cows/horses) really seem to like it. When it's super cold we'll reconstitute it with near boiling water so by the time we get out to the barn and get it fed out it's still nice and warm. They all seem to appreciate it and it's a cheap way to keep up their weight over winter.

  9. you still feed a good mineral throughout the winter?

  10. Whew! This is going to be an hysterical winter (versus historical) I think given the amount of weather Mother Nature seems ready to throw at us this year, so early and so soon. It's not even Thanksgiving! Thank goodness she recovered.

  11. We typically had to feed our animals more grain and feed during the colder months. The extra calories from the grain helped them keep their body temp up. I don't know what else you're feeding your cows other than hay; maybe giving them some high-calorie feed would do the trick.

  12. Gosh, poor Polly, I do hope she will be ok.

  13. I am so sorry! That would have scared me too! I am in North Georgia and this weather is the pits! It's usually 60 out but today it will stay in the 30's. It's a sudden shock for my Jersey girls and babies too, not to forget I sheared my sheep a week ago! Too cold too soon! Stay warm!!

  14. We are under a foot of snow here in Central MN. And cold, too! It is 1 F right now with a low of -6 F tonight. Please tell me more about that global warming thing!

  15. I'm in Massachusetts so we have some pretty bad winters but I've never bothered to put heat lamps in the chicken house. I figured they were 'birds', just like the ones that live outside all winter long without heat lamps, and therefore only needed shelter and good food and minerals in their water. Now I understand that we may have some horrendous cold this winter (I keep hearing mini ice age) so I will have to consider putting their heat lamp in when it gets really bad.

    God Bless & Stay Healthy,
    Janet in MA

  16. Last winter we had trouble with our calves walking on the frozen pond. When things started to thaw, they started falling through. We had to maneuver carefully to save them without putting ourselves in danger. One heifer fell through in the night, and when we found her, she was pretty stiff, but alive. Believe it or not, she lived! Cattle are pretty hardy, thankfullly.

  17. Hi an Alaskan geologist, and one of your biggest fans, I thought I would give you more info.....There is no such thing as "the Aleutian Island". The Aleutians are a physiographic feature, an island arc system, that is over 3,000 km long. The arc has been formed by hundreds of volcanic islands which have been generated by the subduction of the Pacific Plate moving NW at least since the beginning of the Cenozoic. Some of the volcanic islands along the Chain sink and reappear from time to time. There are many active volcanoes in "the Chain", which is a phrase we also use here to refer to the island arc system (Adak is "on the chain", Dutch Harbor is "out on the chain", etc. Alaska has more active volcanoes than any other state, about 50, most of which are in the "Chain". Some of the worst weather possible is generated along the Chain, and we are all getting a dose of it at this time. There is a wonderful Alaska Ferry System tour each summer that travels along the Chain which birdwatchers and other tourists love. Please come up and visit! Thanks for your wonderful work!

    1. Thank you for the info! I've never been to Alaska (much less the Aleutian chain) so my only familiarity is via maps.

      I would love to come visit someday, but alas I have too many commitments here, at least at present.

      - Patrice

    2. On the other hand, in south central Alaska where Anchorage, Palmer, Wasilla are located, we have been having unseasonably warm weather. It was 54 degrees during the day at our house on Tuesday. We got some high warm winds from the storm in the Aleutians. My folks in VA are having colder weather than we are. Weather in AK varies widely. For instance, there used to be 4 different time zones before we were consolidated into one!

  18. Oh, my, so thankful you were outside when the ruckus of the other livestock occurred. Poor Polly!
    Having just arrived in ID, then having to leave (and take the chickens, horse, 3 cats and the dog) to help my Mom in MO, who was recovering from pneumonia, I was behind on my winter preps. Got the strawberries, asparagus, onions, and beets put in the ground and covered, but didn't get the chicken coop insulated. Homeschool consisted of an abbreviated day and then shop class as we insulated it until we ran out. Today, the project will be finished as I almost lost my favorite red hen, Helen Reddy, to the cold yesterday. She decided to molt in October, probably because she went for a second 700 mile ride in less than 30 days, and only just began to refeather. I can see the difference in the level of frost on the coop roof where the insulation is and where it is not. It will be money well spent. My little Fjord mare is wooly and did fine with just letting her have free access to the hay and the barn, which she avoids mostly. I think we have an owl, as I've found the pellets (another great homeschool activity).
    Blessings to you, Patrice and prayers that Polly continues to improve.

  19. Wow Patrice what a story. A friend of mine has a 6,000 acre spread in Montana and ranges out beef cattle. God only knows
    what he must be going through right now. I'm sure that he checking every little ravine looking for lost souls. It was 9 degrees this morning here in Wisconsin with below zero wind chill. We had a total of 7 inches but I understand 13-24 up by the Great Lakes. It's going to be a hard winter I think.

    1. Yep, I'm starting to think the same thing. A tough one on the way.

      For some reason I'm reminded of a day years ago when hubby and I were bringing wood into the house. I grabbed a huge armful of gorgeous, dry, cured oak and proceeded to carry it inside.

      Hubby said, "Why don't you save the good oak for the cold days."

      I replied, "It's already 10 degrees below cold does it have to get before I can burn the good stuff?"

      He said "30 below."

      A few days later we were burning the good stuff.

      Just Me

  20. Patrice,
    I just found your blog this morning by Googling "canning garlic." I've been poking around, and have to say you've got a lot of great stuff here! Thank you for posting.
    I also wanted to comment on this particular post, because reading this brought back so many memories of growing up in central Minnesota in the '70s on a 240-acre farm and doing the "winterizing" of animals. So many fabulous things of our childhood that we forget until something sparks them. So, just wanting to thank you for sharing, for stirring memories, and wishing Polly a full recovery.

    1. Thank you, and welcome. Polly is doing much better. It was 2F this morning but the wind has stopped. We're supposed to be on a warming trend this week.

      - Patrice

  21. I want to thank you for posting the pics with this article. After 6-5 and I insulated the chicken house, I began a search of nest box plans. Hadn't had enough coffee yet to realize what I was looking for was in your pictures. Great picture, just enough detail for me to sketch out a plan for the girls' new digs.
    Hubby will be so please we are cleaning the scrap out of the shop, too.

  22. I am glad Polly is doing better. The saying I was always told is Jersey's are born looking for a place to die. I have had a few die on me quite suddenly and for no really good reason. I hope you can keep her warm and that she continues to improve.
    You have been a huge inspiration to me and I love following your blog. I have been milking cows for almost 4 years now because of your stories. Have a safe and hopefully warmer weekend.

  23. My breathing stopped reading your story.
    I know how it feels.
    Too scary.
    Thank the Lord for warmer weather on the way.