What do you do in the winter?
It’s a question we are often asked, as people stare out across the frozen fields, quietly laying under a blanket of snow. For many they associate farming with the great outdoors, hot, long summer days, and farmer tans. It is understandable since we do spend most of our days outside and in the fields.
Winter is certainly a far slower time of year for many of us, especially if we do not have cattle, sheep, or some other type of critter to take care of. As we have stretched our growing season longer and longer the winter seems to fly by in a blur of shop repairs, paperwork, tax season, conferences, trade shows and house projects that we put on hold throughout the summer. As I sit in our office staring at a pile of year-end paperwork and the glistening blanket of snow laying across the fields I decided I would give everyone a glimpse into our winter. We are in the field until Mother Nature slams the door shut on the fall and ushers in harsh winter weather.
November is our transition month. The beginning of the month is a sprint to finish fall field work including sunflower harvest, fall spraying, hay hauling, and if possible applying nitrogen to our growing winter wheat crops. Towards the end of the month we transition to winterizing, cleaning, and parking equipment for the winter. I spend quite a bit of November catching up on paperwork including crop insurance production and acreage reports as well as our acreage reports to the Farm Service Agency. November is also the heart of rifle season in Montana so we try to squeeze in as many hunting trips as we can. My dad takes advantage of any breaks in the field work and warm weather to golf a few more times.
December begins in Great Falls for the annual Montana Grain Growers Convention. This year the weather was unseasonably warm in the beginning of December so we hauled as much hay as we could as well as wheat that had been contracted for December delivery. As the weather turned colder our attention turned towards repairs in our shop. My dad built the shop long ago and it is invaluable. It is fully heated, full of tools, and allows us to keep our repair costs low as we do a lot of repairs and preventative maintenance throughout the winter. Already this month they have done extensive repairs on a 5020 John Deere tractor, including painting the exterior, and the swather had several seals repaired and is now field ready. A pickup had new springs installed, a truck had new airbags installed, and several other smaller projects have been started and completed. The combine was in the shop to have all of its fluids changed, a few belts replaced, and to be cleaned for the winter before it was sent to John Deere as part of a maintenance program agreement we have with them. It has now been returned, parked in the shed, and is field ready.
I spend most of December wrapping up our tax year (we us a calendar year for our accounting), creating our budgets for next year, analyzing our cost per acre, and researching the cost of inputs for next year. Any free office time is spent researching blog posts, expanding my social media presence, and researching farm policy and other issues for my role with the Montana Grain Growers Association. We also order seed and some of our herbicides in December to take advantage of early purchase discounts. I also take advantage of downtime to do projects around the house that I have been putting off during the busy months. My office is getting a face lift as well as a bathroom and I am also busy organizing all of the baby items and clothes the boys have outgrown for a garage sale next spring.
In January we will continue to do projects in the shop, as well as shift our focus to our cattle. We have been feeding them every day since the beginning of December and will continue to do so the rest of the winter. We recently purchased heifers (first calf female cows) who will calve at the end of January. They were all AI’ed (artificially inseminated) on the same day and have a due date of February 3rd. As soon as our taxes are finalized we visit the accountant and get those taken care of. Once we have our taxes done I turn my attention to renewing our operating line. For the most part this is not a time-consuming job because I have already done the leg work with our budgets, taxes, and per acre costs in December.
February is always a blur, not only is it a short month, but it is insanely busy. I will travel to Washington D.C. for the National Association of Wheat Growers Winter Conference as well as a one day training with Rooted In Conversation. While I am gone our older calves will likely start calving which will keep Travis busy. My dad will likely try to get away for a trip to Florida to visit one of our landlords in between his constant flow of winter shop projects. I will also be gone at the end of the month when I travel to Anaheim for Commodity Classic. February also features the MATE show in Billings, the Great Outdoors Show, and perhaps a high school basketball tournament or two.
If we have time and the weather allows we will tear out and rebuild a few fence lines, do some repair work on our corrals, and various other projects that require us to work outside.
Suddenly before we blink it is March and we are preparing for spring seeding. As long as the weather cooperates we will be seeding our spring wheat and/or malt barley before the calendar flips to April.
While this post ended up being far more specific to our farm than I had originally intended I hope it provides a little insight into the winter season for farmers (and to a certain extent ranchers). Winter is certainly a slower time of the year and does allow us to get away on occasion, but it is also not without a long to-do list. Any project we can finish during the winter is one less thing we have to worry about when the weather breaks and the fields are calling our names. Without fail we have far more on our to-do list than we can accomplish, however we strive to finish all of our top priority repairs and maintenance work. It is hard to describe how satisfying it is to know that our swather and combine are field ready and will not require any maintenance in the middle of summer before we want to use them. Every job we complete in the winter is one less thing we have to worry about in the spring and summer.
Have any more questions about what we do in the winter months?? Feel free to ask!