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Winter isn’t the downtime on farms that many think it is


I recently had somebody tell me: “It must be nice to set your own schedule and be able to do anything you want whenever you want.”

What that person didn’t see at that moment is the hours upon hours and days upon days that I don’t leave the farm. They didn’t see the constant stress farmers are always under — every decision that is made with thousands of dollars riding on those choices. They didn’t see fights my husband and I have, or the continuous balancing act it takes to work on a multi-generational farm.

What that person saw was a woman in the middle of the day not working. They saw a freedom that they don’t have.

Another favorite line I’ve heard is, “The crops are out, what do you even do all winter?”

The answer: Cows.

cattle in snow
Image By RachelKolokoffHopper, Shutterstock

On our operation, we calve three times a year. That means there is almost always a group that needs worked or weaned or preg checked. In the winter the cows need to be fed, ice needs to be broken, wind breaks added, etc. In the heart of winter, we spend a lot of the mornings taking care of cows. During storms, it’s an all day affair helping the cows get through.

Then in all the “free” time, all the equipment is surveyed, parts repaired, bearings inspected, and everything greased and oiled. We do everything we possibly can to prevent downtime during the seasons. It doesn’t completely alleviate breakdowns, but it helps!

Farmers can save a lot of money by doing much of their own equipment maintenance. Every penny helps. But also having it done right is imperative. Winter is when we can pull each piece of equipment in to the shop and tear in to it. We replace parts that have worn thin. We hope to have everything ready to go for its specific season before “cab” time starts. Once spring planting starts, the seasons all roll together and there is little time for extra stuff — only the essentials. That’s why it’s important to take care of all of it during winter.

We are a strict no-till operation, but for those tillage folks, there is ground to work. There’s only a short period that there aren’t crops growing in the fields, so this is also the time to fix erosion problems, ditches, implement tile terraces, or perform other soil-improving qualities.

Certain fertilizers are applied in the winter as well. On our operation, all grass fertilizer is spread in the heart of winter: December through March(-ish). Cropland fertilizer is also applied. That means while taking care of cows eats up most of the morning, we spend most of the afternoons in the tractor spreading. All while fitting in everything else I’ve mentioned.

Image by YesPhotographers, Shutterstock

Don’t get me wrong. Winter is a bit slower simply because of it getting dark earlier. While not impossible, I don’t like running fertilizer or equipment after dark just because it’s so much easier to miss something malfunctioning. We don’t have a heated shop so it can get rather chilly working on equipment, especially after dark.

Winter is when we take the opportunity to do house projects. It’s a nice time to work in the house after dark. It’s nice to take care of projects that don’t get done when it’s light for sixteen hours a day and we can be working outside. During the growing season, there is always something to be done.

As if the aforementioned isn’t enough already, if there is any chance of boredom, we can clean pastures. There are always trees that need cut. There are tree piles to burn. There are fences to mend or build new. Always.

Yes, it’s incredible to be able to go Christmas shopping during the day when fewer people are out and about. Yes, it’s incredible to be able to clean the house and prep meals on a random Tuesday. But understand the grass is not always greener. I sacrifice a lot to have this “freedom.”

As with everything, it’s give and take. The farm is always the most important. The cows always have to be taken care of. This is a lifestyle. Sometimes it affords more flexibility than other times. So while I’m incredibly blessed, also know that while you take vacations and enjoy watching football and going boating every weekend during the summer, we’re probably working.

Comparison is the thief of joy in all things life. Make your life what you want it to be. Choose your joy. Quit looking across the fence at the neighbor’s. Grow your own happiness.

Kelsey Pagel is a Kansas farmer. She grew up on a cow/calf and row crop operation and married into another. Kelsey and her Forever (Matt) farm and ranch with his family where they are living their dream and loving most of the moments.

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