Only a bit of Karen Naatz's face and hair showed beneath her bulky clothes as she faced 3 a.m. chores Monday at Naatz Dairy Farm north of Mantorville.
It was minus 26 degrees, and the wind was wild.
"My eyelashes frosted over right away, so my guess is we're looking at negative 50 or 60," she said.
But as far as she was concerned, only one number mattered — 210. That's the number of cows that needed milking.
Forget the cold, it's part of farm life. You can dress for it.
Forget the frozen water lines and the balky skid loader, they can be fixed with a bit of luck and hard work.
And forget taking the morning off.
"You have to do it," she told the Post-Bulletin. "Dairy farming is not for the weak-hearted. You dairy farm because you love to dairy farm; you don't dairy farm because you want to get rich."
Her first job was to check on two calves born in the previous 24 hours. Normally, Naatz would have put that off until after milking, but the cold forced a change in schedule. One Holstein calf was safely in a special warming chamber; she carried it out and put it into a stall.
"Poor thing, what a way to get into the world," she said.
She was hoping the second one lived so she could put it in the warming chamber.
After she got the balky skid loader started and cared for the one calf, another of her worries disappeared when her part-time help, Kory Weis, of Kasson, appeared. His SUV did start.
One fewer problem to tangle with.
She went inside the milking parlor, where it was warm enough that she could take off her face mask and jacket. But it can't be too warm, or it would shock cows coming in from outside, being milked and going back into the cold.
The cows' comfort comes first, Naatz said.
Then she had to bring the water line inside to thaw it out so the cows could have fresh water. She worried that other lines, such as the milk line, would freeze too. The first cows ambled into the parlor at 3:16 a.m. and within 30 minutes, water flowed through the water line and the milk lines were open.
Life was looking better.
As they hustled to milk cows, 20 at a time, she said she and Weis dream about the weekend, when the temperature may rise above freezing. When it gets that warm, they can shovel manure away from doors instead of using an ax and chisel.
Small things make life better.
When it's warmer than 70 degrees, she said it's a lot easier on her and her husband, Will, who is the night owl of the family. But heat is harder on cows, even worse than cold in some ways.
When all 20 cows were milked, they were let out. She didn't have to look at the cooler to know it didn't have as much milk as usual (about 92 pounds per cow). The animals need more energy to keep warm so they put less into making milk, Naatz said.
With the parlor empty, she and Weis went into the barn to get more cows.
"Let's go, girls," Naatz said, herding 20 more in. "Come on, girls."
Source: Associated Press