I always find it amusing that I can meander around for a few hours on a cold winter afternoon, snapping photos, getting some really great ones and a vastly larger number that never see the light of day, but my favorite is the first one where I'm testing out the settings on the camera for the day and the resulting image says so much.
My outdoor winter activities are somewhat limited because, much to Danish Cowboy's disbelief, it matters not what I wear: I get cold. Quickly. The fact that I prefer sneakers over any other sort of footwear probably doesn't help the situation, but I've tried the big clunky boots. They don't work and they're also not very effective when you have to hoof it away from an angry cow in a hurry. I have been fortunate this winter as the temperatures have been averaging well above the zero mark and I am able to escape outside. One of my favorite things to do is sit and listen to the cows munch on their freshly rolled out hay.
Every winter morning from approximately December through April, except Sundays, Danish Cowboy is faithfully out the door at a certain time of day to take on winter feeding duties. On Sundays, he is slightly delayed for an extra cup of coffee but the frustration of the dog that he is not on time gets him out the door without too much of a delay. And since our children are now starting to participate in school sports, on many Saturdays he feeds in the dark. We cycle through a lot of headlamps in our house.
The days are fairly routine and after fifteen years, I can predict how the morning will go if I am asked to help. If it is cake day, this feeding will happen first. A click of the cake feeder per cow, creatively circling around frozen manure, deep drifts of snow, ice, and landscape features and the job is done. Some cows will stay at one pile of cake until they consume it, others will follow the pick-up and snag a piece or two from each dropped pile. I'm not sure which strategy fares the best.
Then on to the bulls, the horses and finally ending up with the weaned heifers from last year's calf crop. The bulls and the heifers are fed chopped hay and so whoever ventures in to their pasture needs to wield a pitchfork to ensure the chopped hay is dropping down through the feeders. If it's windy and I'm doing it, this often means I get a new pair of contacts that afternoon for my eyes. All the while, every water tank we pass is inspected to make sure it is still in a liquid state after the frigid prairie nights.
My favorite part of all though is when the bales are rolled out. Danish Cowboy will feed a variety of hay on any given day: alfalfa-grass, hay barley, crested wheatgrass, and so forth, depending on the temperature and the whims of how he has arranged his hay yard like Stonehenge. I get great joy out of watching the cows dive in to the hay, fighting the hay bales before they are rolled out and then quickly moving from one pile to the next and back again, either due to a tastier bale or the clique-like nature of the herd.
The cattle will eat on the hay throughout the day, some cattle opting to head out for grazing in the afternoon and the remainder returning to the feed area to clean up the leftovers. There is nothing more peaceful than sitting quietly in the midst of all the hay piles, listening to the cattle quietly munching, occasionally looking at me to ensure I haven't suddenly become a monster, and the clicking of their hooves and joints as they move around.
These are the unassuming and modest tasks that make up Danish Cowboy's days and my weekends. What may seem mundane and repetitive to us is life to the cattle. Like the dog, they too run on a schedule and will start to peer in to the farmyard if the humans take too long to get out of the house. Never underestimate the impact that your deeds and choices will have on another life, human or otherwise. And in the repetition and what can seem like monotony to us sometimes, there is great beauty: the knowledge that a child goes to bed at night fed and clothed and peaceful, and the quiet times where we aren't doing much but listening to livestock eating hay. It is what makes a life. And it is enough.