Last week I had a little reminder of what was to come. The weather has been mild, the rain has fallen often enough, the pasture has grown at a steady rate and the hay shed has remained reasonably full for this time of the year. The cluster flies were still clustering, the roses were still budding, the lawnmower still needed to be dragged out of the barn and I was still wearing gumboots with holes in them. Roll on a looooong summer.

It was a couple of mice I noticed first – one in the hayshed and one in the tack room – followed by a possum sliding down the veranda pole on his way to the feed room. “Huh!” I thought as I made a mental note to stop by a farmers store to get some new Wellies.

Sure enough, it hit a few days later with a distinctive and brutal change and, as I dirtied up my new gumboots, doubled the amount of hay leaving the shed and generally ‘ooo-ed’ and ‘aaah -ed’ at the spectacular snow-on-the-hills scenery which had appeared overnight, I reflected on what was to come … and this year I am hoping to be better prepared.

Last year the snow came down, froze and stayed for two and a half weeks. I went no-where. Life consisted of physically dragging fodder and firewood because the moke was hopeless in the snow. The animals had no choice but to stand in the white stuff and wait for me to bring them their food, the cat was appalled until I solved his problem by bringing a bin of sawdust from the stable in for him to use and, with the TV and the internet gone I felt the isolation of an eskimo. It was an exercise in Arctic Survival.

Fortunately there had been plenty of warning from the weather guru’s and I had gathered as much local advice and knowledge as I could. I left every gate I would need to drive through open, I put snow shovels in strategic places and the cows were shifted into the shelter paddock under the trees by the barn where I could reach over the fence with the front forks on the tractor and drop balage off to them. The calves were housed in the barn and the piggery shed, the sheep were reasonably close to the house in a fenced yard and Last Thyme was given an extra rug and put in with the bulls where I could get to them with the tractor via the road.

Even with all of this it was a struggle. The only way to get the cows from the shelter paddock to the dairy shed for milking was to dig a path for them to walk along. Digging a route through the dairy shed and back out to the paddock was also necessary (and this had to be done each day). I had to stamp paths through the knee deep snow to each animal-feeding-point and drag sacks of hay over to them using electric fence pigtails as ski poles. It was exhausting as each set of animals required several trips … and getting the milk to the calves was a mission in itself. Then there was the milk tanker. The local grader driver had dug his way past to see if I was ok and had kindly graded the snow and ice off the tanker track for me but I still had to take the tractor down to the corner and give the tanker a tow from there to the vat and back out again.

Hoses burst, the water to the house froze, the electricity was occasionally off and the initial picturesque glamor very quickly became a drab white out of depressing proportions. The one thing good about it was that I lost a few kilos with the extra physical activity but the bad thing about it was that I no longer had any desire to do my traditional, and long standing, annual ski-ing trip.

We all coped with it … the animals all got through, but this year I know what I might be in store for … and I am not looking forward to it.

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