Fortunately wool is warm and waterproof. The December ice storm descended on the second day of breeding season.  The lamb count next spring will tell us whether the breeding action was affected. We suspect the rams’ footing might have been dicey.  Otherwise, the sheep seemed content, with their ice-coated coats clanking like out-of-tune bells. 

But the farmers struggled somewhat. Jake set off the first morning with a baseball bat, a bag of kitty litter, and a razor.  He needed them all.

The men bashed the rolling doors of the workshop with shovels to remove thick layers of ice that

Ice-encrusted hay bale

Ice-encrusted hay bale – photo by Jake

prevented rolling.The perimeter of the door then had to be excavated. Finally, access to the plugged-in machinery which started, thankfully. Unfortunately the tractors had virtually no traction. A large round bale set on the back was needed but getting up the lane way to the stored hay was tricky.  Speed and momentum were necessary to gain access to the bales despite drifting sideways, and pushing a tree and branches out of the way.

Every bale was massively coated in ice on top and sides; difficult to break loose and to lift. Christopher and Jake smashed the ice to get at the recyclable plastic wrapping; Chris used a metal pipe while Jake wielded his baseball bat.  Removing the wrap proved a challenge, as the outer layer of hay glued itself to the wrap. The farmers kept lifting and dropping the bale, moving forward and back to get the huge wad of ice, snow, and plastic wrap to separate. This labourious process was repeated with each of the fourteen bales fed that day.

Ropes, Gates, all took time to open

Ropes, Gates, all took time to open – photo by Jake

Getting through the first gate was another challenge. All gates between the fields needed to be bashed to move the cedar poles at the bottom that weighs the paige wire down. The baseball bat and shovel continued to be the most frequently needed tools.  Even the knotted plastic ropes, normally requiring seconds to undo, were difficult to manage with their thick layers of ice.

Gravity and friction are needed in order to unroll a bale in the field. However, with the ice coating there was no friction so the bales were sliding.  Jake had to continually maneouvre back and forth to get the hay to start unrolling. Tires spun as the extra drag caused a loss of traction. 

After the first bale was fed, there was not enough traction to get up the lane way to hoist the next.  Jake spread his bag of non-clumping kitty litter on the ice.  The frozen sand pile under the frozen tarp was no alternative. Driving the tractor at speed up the lane way, slip-sliding sideways, was dicey with parked cars too close.

Freezing rain was constant that morning.  Jake’s hood froze into a solid ice helmet. It was rigid, allowing no peripheral vision. He couldn’t rotate his body or head to see anything. Fortunately he was wearing layers, feeling grateful that wool is warm. He dragged one bale for awhile, thinking it was unrolling then discovered it was still a solid lump. The tractor windshields were icing up on 3 sides so he couldn’t see. The squeegee had no effect.  He used a razor utility knife to carve a hole in the windshield ice, shaving the window like an old style barber; each opening lasting only 10 – 15 minutes.

Chores should have required about 2 1/2 hrs for 2 people. That day it took easily twice that time – over 5 hours.

Topsy sheep, with their well-insulated wool and lanolin, and their shining armour of ice, continued in breeding mode or peacefully eating among the crystal fields and sheltering hedgerows. Topsy men, however, struggled to achieve this peaceful vision.

Christmas Eve - shimmering warm sheep in crystal palace

Christmas Eve – shimmering warm sheep in crystal palace – by Jake