I know that many of you are probably wondering how I can be thinking of winter when it is only late August and temperatures are in the 80s (or higher, in many places!). Yet winter has been on my mind for the past few days. When you look across the entire year, I spend about half of my work day outside (with the rest being mostly in front of my computer), but during the winter months, I actually spend more time outside than in. This time of year brings preparations for breeding season and the cold weather ahead, including putting in the hay, checking the automatic waterers, and cleaning and aiming the barn cameras.
Although there are many who try to make long-term weather predictions — from the local TV station to almanacs to those who work outside — I’ve never given it much credence. Short-term predictions for the next few days make some sense, but the next few months seem like a stretch. Yet I’m ready to make my own long-term prediction this year, based on seeing so many different signs as I go about my workdays. So here I go, and we’ll see how things turn out: I have come to believe that we are in for an early and nasty winter. How do I know? My friends have told me.
First, the Canada geese are already heading south — a month or so early. Over the past two weeks, we’ve had three groups stop in: one small group the first time and then two larger groups. They stay for a couple of days, resting and filling their bellies, and then they continue south.
Secondly, my three dogs typically shed out their coats in September or October, growing thick winter coats to replace what is lost. Their hair comes out in tufts, so it’s pretty obvious when it happens, and it seems to be influenced by external factors, since our house is maintained at the same temp throughout this period. Our dogs have already had their fall shed, and we took them to the groomer early last week to get the remainder of the mats and loose hair removed. Again, this occurred at least a month earlier than I remember it happening before. This made me start to wonder whether I was overlooking the obvious, since even the dogs seem to know that winter will be coming a bit early.
Thirdly, our rams have been fighting with each other for weeks over who will get the ewes. We don’t normally see this behavior so early in the season — and particularly not on hot days — yet we’ve seen them fighting in the fields for quite a while. Although they started early last year too, it wasn’t this early. Along with the other signs, this has me wondering what they know and I don’t.
Finally, our acreage gets a visit each fall by a huge flock of small birds heading south. They settle in one or more of our trees, and when they do, there’s no doubt that they are there as the sound is nearly deafening! More of these small birds join the group as they sit in the tree(s), and the flock continues to grow until dusk, when the entire group falls silent and turns in for the night. If this happens while leaves are still on the trees, there are more birds than leaves! It’s an incredible sight, and we feel privileged to see and hear it once each year. As the sun rises in the morning, the huge flock takes to the sky and heads south. How far they go and where they stop is anyone’s guess, but the entire experience is breathtaking. This year’s group has already come and gone. They were here on Monday night, weeks before we expected them. They perched in the tree just behind our house, and the ambient noise they made at dusk was so loud that we had to raise our voices inside the house to be heard. They are obviously setting out for the warm south ahead of schedule.
So based on all of these observations and more, I’m ready to say that we, too, need to get ready! Our hay is nearly all in; we’ll have two more deliveries: 370 bales of grass hay and 150 bales of alfalfa hay to go. This weekend we’ll closely check all of the ewes for internal parasites and we’ll change their coats for the last time until we weigh them and put them into breeding groups in September. We are scheduled to do the same for the rams next weekend. The waterers are all set, and we’ve fixed the cords on the water tanks that had issues last spring. Based on what I’m seeing, there is no time to waste — winter is coming!