In winter, true winter, when the ground is white and the wind is visible with kicked up snow, the cold becomes just another layer you put on in the morning and don’t take off until your chores are finished at night. It is not something you can choose to wear one day and not another like a gift tie or a frilly scarf. It is part of your daily ensemble and you either figure out how to deal with it or you go back to bed and hide ‘til spring, late spring. If it is just cold, even mightily so, say minus 10 or 20, it is not so bad being outside. Adding another layer will keep you warm if you stay busy unless you are sitting on a tractor. Roger says, “My feet get cold and so do my hands but after awhile I don’t notice them. If I have to sit on the tractor doing something then I really get cold because I’m not doing anything. Nothing is colder than sitting on a tractor seat.” Of course, a tractor with a heated cab would solve this but there is only one tractor with a cab on the Bromley farm and it’s not heated and it is not used in the winter. Nice try. When it is both windy and cold, being outside all day becomes nearly impossible. It is possible to wear enough clothing to stay warm but it is impossible to actually do anything so dressed. When its bitter outside Roger will wear a couple pairs of socks, long underwear, sweatpants and a pair or two of baggy corduroys on his legs and a t-shirt, turtleneck, sweatshirt, insulated vest, a down vest and a jacket on top to do chores. A hat, neck gaiter and a couple pairs of gloves encase his head and hands. If the wind is howling the barn can get uncomfortably cold-in the upper 30’s where the cows are and in the teens back in the feeding alcoves. There the wind hurries through evil little cracks and down the silo chutes making little drifts of snow and menacing rows of icicles inside. Then the inside walls of the alcoves grow a thick white and the windows are opaque with frost, looking like plush icy velvet. On these days you just have to be resigned to the fact that hands and toes are going to be more often cold than okay. Rubber boots don’t have much insulation in them and heavy gloves make some jobs impossible. Try clipping chains to 50 cows or moving milkers with heavy insulated gloves and you’ll quickly discard the gloves to get the job done. Once hands and toes and gloves get cold (and heaven forbid wet) there is very little chance of them ever getting really warm again. Roger will run a trickle of hot water over his boots to warm the rubber and his feet inside but it is a very temporary solution. He’ll rotate gloves, heavy lined ones for outside work and lighter uninsulated ones for inside jobs but these get cold as well. Rubbing a cow’s back takes the ache out of really cold fingers as does the heat from the bare overhead light bulbs but it is a net loss proposition, your fingers will warm up temporarily but standing still chills your whole body. The milking barn though is not the coldest barn on the farm. The coldest place is the heifer barn, a half-mile uphill from the milking barn and 50 years removed. Everyday, all winter long and into early spring, Roger goes up to this barn after he has finished his chores down below. If the snow is not too deep he will take his four-wheeler to the barn, if it is more than a foot deep or if there are no good tracks he will ride a snowmobile.The heifer barn sits high on the north flank of Dorset Mountain. The views from up there will make your eyes pop but the winter weather will take your breath away, literally. It is always windy in these high meadows but in winter, when the crown of the mountain cleaves the clouds like a big rocky plow, the wind roars down the pastures with bitter blasts of ice that will stop you dead in your tracks and make it hard to take a breath. The only electricity in the heifer barn goes to two bare light bulbs in the center aisle. This is how it’s been since electricity came to the farm in 1934. There is no mechanical gutter cleaner, no manure pump, no generator to provide power- the power is supplied by Roger. The gutter cleaner is the shovel in your hand and the manure pump is the wheelbarrow. Add a strong back and you’re good to go. “I suppose we could put a gutter cleaner up here and we could put in some heat but it would only be used a few months each year and the heater only a few weeks when it is really cold. This old barn is pretty snug down here, 20 heifers keep it warm enough and they have plenty of food. The heifers don’t seem to mind and neither do I. Besides it gives me a good excuse to go for a ride.” Chores anyone?
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