Despite the short daylight hours and the chill in the weather, farmers throughout the state of Wisconsin are still hard at work. Livestock farmers are busy keeping their animals warm and dry, crop growers are replacing parts on their field equipment, and producers of all commodities are planning their financials for the year ahead. Though you may not see your neighborhood farmer out in the field this time of year, you can be sure they have not stopped farming.
In the cold, chilly days of January, livestock farmers across the state take extra measures to ensure the warmth, safety and comfort of their animals. Often, barn walls that are open in the summertime to allow the breeze through are closed in winter months. These side curtains serve as a windbreak and prevent drafts and moisture from entering the barn. Additional special care is given to the youngest animals on the farm when the temperatures drop. Many farmers work in extra daily feedings to young animals, to ensure they have enough energy for warmth in addition to growth. On my family’s fourth-generation dairy farm, we even add extra ‘insulation’ to the outside of our calf housing by stacking straw bales outside. These bales help to keep it warm and cozy inside for the calves to snuggle in their beds.
Since January is a slow time in the fields, this gives farmers a chance to do any maintenance needed on their equipment. Just as your car or lawnmower wears with use, so do tractors and the implements they pull (ex. a corn planter or plow). It is important for farmers to measure this wear and tear on their equipment, and determine if parts need to be replaced before the busy planting season begins. In the winter, tractors will be washed, oil will be changed, and joints will be greased.
January is also a time for Wisconsin farmers to plan for the year ahead. Just as any other business owner, farmers have to set budgets, plan for income and expenses, and look at their farm assets. Using a map of their fields, they will determine which crops will be planted where. Rotating which crops are planted in each field is important for ensuring soil health. Once a planting map has been made, farmers will look for seed to buy. This is a much more in-depth process than just ordering ‘corn’ to plant. There are numerous varieties of each crop, all with different genetics that produce different traits. A farmer will evaluate the varieties based on potential yield, resistance to disease, and how the variety will suit their specific soil type.
Though the cold weather can be challenging to keep animals warm, the start of a new year brings the excitement of a new growing season. Our farmers are truly dedicated to their job, 365 days a year. Wisconsin agriculture certainly does not stop when winter arrives. This winter, as you warm up with a cup of hot chocolate made with Wisconsin milk or a bowl of soup made with Wisconsin carrots and potatoes, take a moment to appreciate our state’s farm families and the safe, wholesome food they provide year-round for our tables.
Abigail Martin, a 2014 graduate of Milton High School, is the 72nd Alice in Dairyland. Wisconsin’s agriculture ambassador works with media professionals to share the importance of agriculture to Wisconsin’s economy and way of life.