Winter arrived very quickly this year. We went from a warm October to a full force winter storm in the beginning of November with lots of snow. It seems like we are getting more and more extremes in our weather the past few years. So what is it like on a ranch when winter arrives so quickly? Luckily, we had a bit of warning so earlier in the week we hauled home the last group of heifers that were on neighbouring pasture; however, we did not expect to have so much snow, wind and such cold temperatures all at once.
No matter what the conditions are like outside, we must be outside making sure the animals all have appropriate feed, water and shelter. Needless to say, the task list during the first storm is long! Here is our our six daily tasks that we must do each and every day on our cattle ranch during winter.
Main Cow Herd
First, we must dig our way out of our houses and get to the tractor, which doesn’t have chains on yet. We must put the chains on as the main cow herd is 2 miles from home and about 500 feet in elevation above us. We then drive up with the tractor as a tractor or snowmobile are the only two ways we can get to cow herd from November until January. When the first storm arrives in November, we must count the cows to ensure that they have come down to the haystacks. Then, every day we will roll out the hay for them, count them and cut the ice at their water source. In January, the cow herd is moved down in elevation closer to our homes ready for calving in the beginning of March.
Next, we have to feed the bred heifers and check their water trough. They are fed in a round bale feeder so that they can have hay in front of them at all times. It is important to separate out the bred heifers from the main cow herd as they require a different feeding program and we don’t want them to get pushed out by the older cows. We usually previously separate our mature cow herd away from our bred heifers, along with a few older cows who we want to give additional care to. Bred heifers are turning 2 years old in the spring, which means they are still growing and will be having their first calf in March. It is important for them to get the best possible forage. Some producers will also separate out the three year old cows so that they can get additional feed. We prefer to monitor our three year olds body condition, also known as body condition score. If we see one that looks a bit thinner, we will put her with the bred heifers. By taking extra care in feeding the bred heifers, it helps to reduce calving difficulties and helps the heifers to raise bigger calves, breed back sooner after calving and improve their longevity in the herd.
We are fortunate to have automatic water troughs for most of our pastures. Usually sometime in October when the temperature starts to drop, we turn on the heaters in each troughs. However, that is not to say they will all necessarily be working and won’t freeze. Each one must be checked daily and thawed out if frozen.
Next, we check the herd bulls hay and water troughs. These herd sires are extremely important to our operation and we carefully monitor their forage over the winter months. The mature bulls are fed hay all winter in a round bale feeder so that they have hay at all times. The younger herd sires also have hay at all times and we feed them grain to help them grow and mature.
Next, the heifer, bull and steers calves are kept close to the barnyard and are fed grain twice per day. This usually involves shovelling the grain troughs after each snowfall. The calves are usually weaned in October so that hopefully by the first winter storm, they are settled into their new independent life. They are all fed with round bale feeders so they have free choice hay at all times and they have heated water troughs. We carefully monitor this group for sickness, as they are at a higher risk since they have recently been weaned from their mothers.
Sheep & Horses
Lastly, the sheep and horses must be fed. The sheep are fed grain and hay each morning and evening until December and then they are just fed hay in December through to February. Once they are getting close to lambing, in the beginning of March, we sometimes start to feed them a bit of grain again, depending on their body condition and age. This fall, we built new feed troughs for the sheep and these troughs have been wonderful. They allow the sheep to easily eat hay throughout the day, while not rubbing off their wool and reducing the amount of hay that is wasted.
The horses are fed hay each day once the snow is too deep and too crusty for them to paw through. Most of our horses are on self feed with round bales. We have a few older horses who are getting grain to help keep their body condition up. Horses do very well at pawing for grass which is very healthy for them. As long as there isn’t a crust on the snow, the horses can paw out in a field with good grass coverage quite well in the winter.
Finally, we must plow the snow. Usually our driveways are be the last location to get plowed once the wind stops. When we get strong winds, we usually are not able to leave home for a while. Up here in Knutsford, the wind can blow the snow into huge drifts that are impassable without a tractor or snow blower.
The barnyard isn’t as urgent to be plowed unless we have grain trucks and fuel trucks coming in or if we are having to haul animals out of the ranch. All the plowing is usually done in the afternoons once all the morning chores are completed. That being said, sometimes the barnyard will drift so much that we may have to plow out the bale feeders for the calves.
A Full Days Work
How long will all of these tasks take? Between shovelling our grain bins, feed troughs, barn doors, shed doors and plowing our bale feeders and anything else that needs clearing, these tasks will often fill our days in the winter, especially after snowstorms. The days when we don’t get snow, the daily chores don’t necessarily take as long and then we can fill our afternoons with recording keeping, planning for the next season, going to town for supplies and family fun!
No matter what you have planned on a ranch, the weather will often determine our plans for us! A big winter storm means that there are a lot more tasks required in a day and the other, less urgent tasks, get pushed aside. Our animals always come first no matter and we make sure that they are protected and have everything they need, even in absolutely terrible weather. Come check out our stories on Instagram to see an inside look into our daily winter chores.