When people hear that I’m living on a farm during the winter, they wonder exactly how I’m surviving. Well, truth be told, winter on the farm is a whole other ballgame.
In fact, the past four days felt as though I was undergoing a Farm Survivor marathon. And halfway through it, I was in danger of being voted off the island.
The temperature had dropped to negative double-digits and the snow was packed deep, finally ready to settle in for the next few months.
It was the first real freeze at the farm and none of the birds — even the typically stoic turkeys — wanted to chill outside (no pun intended).
Only Olive and Clyde, with their double fur coats, seemed unfazed by the Great Snowfall, as they dashed and pranced around in their very own wintery wonderland.
I had recently settled into a comfortable routine at the farm. But it was as if the farm gods had waited until I had found my groove before they rubbed their hands together with glee and declared: “Now, let’s break her.”
The toughest thing about winter on the farm is that everything — even the smallest of tasks — seem to expend more time and energy than usual (while you freeze your butt off). Especially when you’re down and out with a cold — which I was.
Antonio was going to be absent for much of the week to help out at his parents’ restaurant, The Red Rooster. They were in a jam and needed him to fill in, so I was to be Farm Overlord for several days.
Everything had frozen over — the water buckets, the hoses to fill the water tanks, the snow around the bird house doors. It. Was. All. Frozen.
Trying to break up chunks of ice from the sheep’s water buckets, and painstakingly fill up more water from a dwindling tank, meant having to spend way more time in the barn than usual.
That also meant having to hear Sheep Symphony No. 9 on extended repeat. And believe me, it doesn’t sound anything like Beethoven to your ears.
Today, they were particularly keen on turning up the volume (in case I had lost my hearing overnight), and were baaing and bleating as though the world was about to end. There is no such thing as a cute sheep when this is happening.
And it’s not just the aural senses that get attacked. My presence in the barn had come to mean one thing, and one thing only, for those wooly warblers: the hand that fed them.
As nurturing as those momma sheep are, it seemed that once a box of food was put into the equation, any newborn lamb in the vicinity immediately became expendable. Imagine how much less they cared about trampling over a human that dared to stand between them and dinner.
My body was already feeling super weak from being sick, but after getting jostled around by a herd of hungry sheep, I felt like I had crawled out of a sumo wrestling match in which I was the undisputed loser.
I finished throwing out the last of the corn and oat mix, while the sheep ran towards the goods. Finally done. Exhale. Cue Sheep Symphony No. 9.
“What? I just fed you!” I protested amidst the tidal wave of baas. “Enough!”
It was no use. The sheep didn’t understand anything I was saying. In fact, they were just getting louder. I imagined that government agents could add Sheep Symphony No. 9 to their arsenal of psychological torture tactics when they needed to extract information from a suspect. I bet it’d work every time.
Exasperated, I grabbed the empty water buckets and walked over to the water tank to fill them up. The tank was low and replenishing the buckets was taking twice the amount of normal time.
All I wanted in that moment was my bed — my warm, quiet, sheepless bed — and to wake up to a better, less frozen day.
Donkey on the Run
I woke the next morning to the incessant beeping of my alarm. Groaning, I hit the snooze button. The last thing I wanted to do was face the (sheep) music today.
I could hear the rooster crowing from all the way inside the bird house. I grumbled something to myself, then reluctantly left my warm blankets to get dressed and let the birds out.
My throat was still sore and I was feeling congested, but at least it was turning out to be a sunny day. The snow was sparkling, and after Antonio opened the barn door to clear out some hay, Jay wandered outside to bask in all the sun’s glory.
Later, Antonio left for The Red Rooster and I settled into the trailer to try and get some rest before the afternoon feeding. But not long after, I was alerted by a loud hee-haw bellowing in the distance.
Oh no! What trouble had poor Jay gotten himself into now? I sprang up and threw on my snow pants, almost falling over.
“I’m coming, Jay!” I yelled.
I ran over to the sheep barn. No sign of Jay. I rushed to the back of the barn. Olive and Clyde were roaming around, keeping an eye on the renegade donkey who was currently standing off at a distance, looking perfectly fine.
I breathed a sigh of relief.
“Jay,” I called to him sweetly. “Do you want to come inside now?”
Jay trotted off in response.
“Okay, you be a rebel,” I nodded at his disappearing backside.
But I knew that Jay’s antics wouldn’t be so charming once I actually needed him to get into the barn for the night.
After lunch, I returned to the sheep barn to get started on the afternoon tasks. Jay was still nowhere near ready to call it a day. He was contently chewing on some hay and leisurely wandering around like he owned the place.
I circled around and snuck up behind him. As soon as he noticed I was there, Jay trotted off in the direction of the barn. I seized my chance.
He tried to pass the barn door, but I manoeuvred in time and got him cornered. Jay stood there motionless, his nose practically touching the door. He did not look thrilled.
“What’s the matter, Jay?” I asked. “You don’t like them anymore?”
The sheep were standing in a crowd in the barn, munching on some hay like it was popcorn, while they silently observed the unfolding situation.
I had to get him in. Time was ticking and if he decided to turn around and take off, I could bet my bottom dollar that I’d be running my farm tasks into the frigid darkness.
I suddenly remembered that I had a dog leash in my coat pocket. I didn’t want to resort to this, but Jay had given me no choice.
As soon as he felt the leash being slipped around his neck, Jay threw his head to the side. Although he could have probably run off and dragged me behind him in the snow with his brute strength, he just gave the leash a few disdainful tugs.
“Come on, Jay,” I insisted. “I know those sheep are loud sometimes, but they need you!”
Jay was not happy. Not one bit. My donkey friend who had always quietly ambled over to me for a petting was now being disgraced in front of all his sheep underlings with a dog leash around his neck. I felt like a monster.
“I didn’t want to do this,” I pleaded regretfully. “But you made me!”
After more begging and tugging, Jay finally trotted inside, realizing that he was going to lose the battle. He ran around the barn in a circle and kicked his hind legs up in the air in a show of protest. The leash was still around his neck and he flung his head sideways in an attempt to hurl it off.
I told Jay that I’d help him take off the leash, but he just ran away when I tried to come close.
Finally, he stood still, hiding behind one of the hay troughs.
“Jay!” I pleaded. “I’m sorry!”
Jay looked away, avoiding eye contact.
I slowly approached him, as though I was negotiating a tense hostage situation.
“Let me take off the leash, Jay,” I said calmly.
Jay seemed to think it over, then stood still as I walked over and slipped the dog leash off his neck.
He still didn’t run away, so I stood there for the next few minutes, petting the side of his face and ears so he wouldn’t hate me for the rest of his life.
“Never again,” I promised him.
Eventually, I had to leave Jay to get hay for the sheep, feed them their corn and oats, and refill the water buckets.
By now, the water tank was at the end of its supply. I sat on the steps of the stairs leading up to the hay loft, holding the hose over a bucket while a small, disappointing stream of water trickled out. The light was dimming rapidly, shrouding the barn in shadows.
Although my bones could feel the chill, there was something quite peaceful about sitting there in that moment.
It was one of the rare times I got to see the sheep calm and quiet, some still munching on hay, others nestled on the ground with their baby lambs.
It was important to keep up a good attitude during these challenging moments, I told myself. Mind over matter, right?
But what happens when your mind starts playing tricks on you? How do you overcome the challenge then?
Well, I was going to have to figure it out soon, as the next round of Farm Survivor was coming just around the corner.
>> Read the next post in the #farmlifebestlife series: Mind Games