WRITE TEAM: Winter chores allow time to appreciate, admire farm animals

It’s warm inside the house, but there are animals counting on me, so I suit up. Insulated coveralls, hat, scarf, gloves.

On the porch I put on rubber boots and step outside the house. It’s so bright I have to squint. The snow shimmers like diamonds, and it squeaks under my boots as I walk the familiar path to the barn in the biting cold.

“Good morning cows!” Friendly, fuzzy bovine faces look up to greet me as I slide the door open.

I go from pen to pen and break the ice in their water, petting their soft fuzzy coats that are the reason the cold doesn’t bother them.

With a pitchfork, I toss up fresh hay to the row of eager cows lined up at the hay rack awaiting me. They munch the sweet green hay appreciatively, and I remember the sweat and challenges we had turning last summer’s sunshine and rain into nutritious food for the winter.

I take a few minutes to lean on my pitchfork and watch them eat. All is peaceful, and for a moment there’s nothing else in the world but the quiet sounds of happy cows with complete trust in me to keep them cared for. This is one of my favorite parts of having cows.

Working so closely with them, I know them by name, and even the Dutch Belts with their similar black bodies and white bands around their middles look different with their distinct faces. Highlight and Zip with their curious noses, big red Octavia who is due to have a calf any day now, spunky Dragonfly and sweet Tracy. Quiet Eva, determined Fillpail, and dependable Peggy Sue.

I could watch these ladies all day, but my other duties for the day call to me, and I hang the pitchfork up and close the barn door, leaving the herd cozy and warm.

The sun is shining, and it’s feeling stronger over the weeks — another sign that spring isn’t as far away as it seems on this chilly day.

Across the yard with the chickens, I fill a bucket with grain and open the door to the hens. A few come to curiously peck at the snow on my boots — they’ll taste just about anything.

There’s some lovely brown eggs in the nests that haven’t frozen yet, so I pick them up. Soon they’ll become lovely baked goods or breakfasts. I leave the flock happily pecking at their feed and scratching through their bedding where I’ve left tasty morsels of hay leaves that the cows didn’t want.

With everyone satisfied, I trek back to the house to warm up and eat breakfast.

In the midst of this snowy day, I know before too long the snow will be gone and the grass will grow again. The cows will enjoy lush green pastures; I’ll watch them contentedly; and we’ll make new hay for next winter. But for now, I’ll enjoy the beauty of this peaceful winter morning and the joy of knowing animals.

• Martha Hoffman Kerestes is a farmer and freelance writer in rural Streator. She can be reached at tsloup@shawmedia.com.