The temperature reads minus 14 degrees, but with the wind chill, it’s probably hovering somewhere near minus 35. The cattle are huddled in the corral, seeking any spot they can find out of the wind. You know it’s cold when the cattle choose to come into the corral, rather than seeking shelter behind a windbreak in the pasture. The horses are standing deep inside the pole barn and the feeder calves have sought refuge inside the barn. The weather isn’t fit for anything to be outside.    

            Yet, the cafeteria remains open. All the schools are closed from Colorado Springs east to the Kansas state line and south to the Oklahoma and New Mexico state lines. But the livestock has to be fed and watered. This is the lifestyle we chose to pursue years ago. We could have opted to be sitting in a heat-filled office, looking out a skyscraper window, questioning why people insist on fighting the elements as they walk down the street taking care of their business.

            My Border collie and blue heeler gladly hop into the cab of the flatbed, eager to help feed but understanding that it’s too frigid to frolic outside. We head out to hay the cows, trying to keep them bunched up as much as possible to maintain the body heat. It’s not so bad dropping off the hay, except when the cows not-so-gently nudge me out of the way so they can get to the food. That done, it’s time to chop the ice. We don’t have heaters on our stock tanks, so I get to exercise my muscles. It’s kind of fun in it’s own way, skating across the stock tank just to entertain myself. With all the layers of clothes I have on, I didn’t realize it was so frigid until I finished with the first tank and noticed I was slathered in ice chips that had flown from the tank. And I had to literally pry my fingers off the axe.

 I knew better than to pull off my frozen gloves and place my hands over the pickup’s defroster, but I did it anyway. The pain was excruciating! Just three more tanks to, as my dad used to say, make a hole in big enough for the cows to get a straw through. Yet, this is the lifestyle we chose to pursue—feeding America! The postman’s creed may be to carry the mail in all types of weather, but I have seen days when the mail didn’t arrive at our house, yet we still had to feed and water livestock.

My fingers are screaming! The dogs and I fed the bulls. Being around those massive creatures doesn’t really bother me, and even less so when it’s cold like this. They don’t like to expend any more energy than necessary, so they just stand there while I dump out a little cake and throw off the hay. Made ‘em a straw hole and headed back to the house. I don’t think my fingers are attached to my hand any longer.

Hey, great news! It’s warmed up six degrees since I went out this morning! Now it’s a balmy minus 8, but the wind chill hasn’t changed much. And I keep telling myself this is the lifestyle I chose years ago. I see many of the Midwest airports are closed. The country’s midsection has nearly come to a standstill. It’s then I fully grasp the concept that I wasn’t the only producer out caring for livestock this morning. All across America producers were caring for livestock or trying to preserve their fragile fruits and vegetables, because this is the lifestyle we chose to pursue years ago.

            People are frantically trying to find alternate flights out of recently opened airports, trying to make connections so they can finish their business. Many will make that connection in time to enjoy a business dinner or simply a family gathering around the table tonight.

            I don’t care if you’re a vegan or if you love a good steak, you need to thank America’s agricultural producers for that dinner. While you’re worrying about making that airline connection or closing a business deal, we producers are braving the elements trying to protect what is on your plate tonight. Yes, it’s the lifestyle we chose to life years ago. I love this life, America, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything! 

Jean Meizner:     Jean is a member of the El Paso County Farm Bureau Federation who lives in Yoder, Colorado. She graduated from Colorado State University with a B.S. (take it any way you wish, she says) in Agricultural Journalism. Jean has a great sense of humor, enjoys helping others and is one of Colorado’s coolest ranch women.