In this nastiest of nasty weather, we’d like to salute those of you working in the cold to keep things safe and operating in the college’s livestock barns. And in some cases, outside of them. A case in point is Rusty Burgett, sheep program manager at the Spooner Agricultural Research, where the current polar plunge has coincided with a 15–20 day lambing period.
“It’s been interesting,” he said on Monday. “When a ewe has a lamb, you have about half an hour to get it in out of the cold. (Wet lambs) quickly lose heat from evaporative cooling, so it’s like if you get wet and run out in the cold. See how fast you cool down.”
About 120 of the station’s 300 ewes are expected to lamb over the next couple of weeks. They’re not going to wait for warmer weather, and a lot of them aren’t waiting for daylight hours. Fortunately, a video system lets Burgett monitor things from his house. But whether or not a birth is in the offing, he goes out several times a night to get a closer look.
“A lot depends on the ewe,” he said. “If she’s a good mother, she gets them cleaned off. If they don’t have access to the barn, she keeps it warm and gives it that first meal of colostrum. I’ve got a ewe right here who just had a lamb. She’s cleaning it off. She’s doing her job. ”
And so is Burgett. His job is a cold one, but at least he gets to hold a warm lamb at the end. There’s nothing warm or fuzzy about the work facing some of his colleagues working in the dairy barns at Arlington, Marshfield or Prairie du Sac. They’re wrestling with, among other things, frozen manure systems: frozen pipes, frozen scrapers, frozen poop.
“We’ve had people out here from midnight Saturday on, babysitting to make sure things flow,” said Dwight Mueller, director of the Ag Research Stations from his Arlington office.
We won’t take out hats off to you guys—it’s took cold for that—but we do want to offer our warm thanks.