Winter Farming

Daryl T. Jasper rolls out hay for his cows on frozen mud "as hard as cobblestones."

Pulaski County doesn’t often see piles of snow in the south-central region of the state. The sky and fields can be clear and open but when temps drop into frigid climes and sub-zero wind chills-and the mud freezes as hard as cobblestones-farmers must work with a different set of variables.

For the second consecutive January a sizeable polar wave has pushed into the South, bringing temperatures that haven’t been much above 25 degrees for almost a week-with more cold and the possibility of a freezing rain-snow mix to come. While we might grumble as we reach for our heavier coats, most farm animals have to ride it outdoors or in unheated barns in these extreme conditions.

Daryl T. Jasper, 62, is the fifth generation to work at his family farm located at the edge of northwestern Pulaski County near Mintonville. Jasper milks 72 head at the family homeplace where his father, Tyler, 90, and mother, Frieda, still live. As we talked, Frieda provided a welcome pot of coffee that she refills all day. She can see the milking parlor from her kitchen window-and their church beyond-and recalls when, at the start of their marriage 67 years ago, she helped her husband milk 8 cows by hand in the stable. Tyler admits to missing farming but is glad to see it continue on with his son.

“Every 10 years or so we’ll have a ‘stopper’,” a soft-spoken Jasper said as he told of heavy snow winters in the mid 70s, early 80s, and 90s. “As a rule, cattle do better in winter than in summer.”

On a dairy farm, calves are born year round. After the prolonged severe cold last winter, he didn’t lose one calf.

“It’s just God’s design, a miracle, that they don’t flash freeze (on the frozen ground) when they are born after being in their mother at 102 degrees body temperature.”

In the winter, Jasper feeds out a special batch mix with a ratio of higher energy grain. Phillip Murphy, Jasper’s farmhand, “is more computer savvy than I am,” and found the recipe through the University of Minnesota, a part of the country well used to a sub-zero winter climate. The custom feed is prepared for him at Goldenrod Feeds in Casey County and is given to each cow as they’re milked in the 6-stall parlor.

Jasper also rolls out hay in the pastures which one person can easily do versus hand hauling many square bales for his Holstein herd. The cows free range until they are brought into the heated dairy parlor, at often the two coldest parts of the day, for morning and evening milking. After cleaning the teats with iodine to prevent infection, the cows get a year-round post-dip with added beeswax. This can only be used when it is above 15 degrees but it helps the udders to stay supple and not crack, especially in the winter.

Jasper is a conscientious farmer: his cows are healthy and well fed.

“P.E.T.A. should have seen me bringing a newborn calf to warm up in the milking parlor that had icicles all over his mouth,” he joked. “They would have liked that!”

Richard L. Whitis, Pulaski County’s extension agent for agriculture and natural resources, sees most calls after a cold outbreak that are related to respiratory illnesses that have been stirred up because of extreme or fluctuating weather.

“Most of our producers around here have been raising cattle long enough that they know what to do.

“I typically recommend to farmers that they have plenty of feed because of eating more (to keep up body temp). One thing we don’t think of is water: Keep water tanks from freezing because (animals) need as much access to water in cold [some 14 gallons a day for larger livestock] as they do in heat,” Whitis said. Water in tanks can be melted electrically or by chopping up the ice and keeping it open.

Whitis added that wind can be a problem, too.

“If you can provide some kind of windbreak: the temperature is not so much of an issue as much as the wind. With wet animals and a 15mph wind blowing, hypothermia can set in pretty quick.”

The Jasper Farm provides milk to the Prairie Farms consortium and is one of 19 remaining permitted, licensed dairies in Pulaski County. Whitis said that number is down by half from 37 in 2005.

“The majority of our dairies now are confinement or partial confinement so the important thing is to make sure udders and teats are stripped out after milking-even more important in cold weather.”

Fortunately, in January in Kentucky, there is just as likely to be a 50-degree day as there is a freezing one.

“You know we plant, we sow, and we hope. If it doesn’t rain or if it’s cold or freezes, it’s not up to us.”

When asked if he had any advice for cold-weather farming, Daryl Jasper just grinned: “Bundle up!”