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Cold Comfort

Garth Brown |

It's my impression that pigs feel the cold in a way sheep and cows don't. The way they jockey for position in the sleeping pile and their diminished interest in sorting through every blade of haylage in the outdoor feeder are a stark contrast to the ruminants, which will happily spend a placid afternoon gathered round their bales, regardless of the thermometer. (Almost, at least - a couple winters ago I had a group of weaned calves voluntarily sleep outside on a night it went down to -20. But if it's in the low single digits or colder and the wind is blasting, even the cows want some shelter from the elements.)

Like the livestock, the local population of wild mammals don't have much of a choice about where they spend their winter, so some - groundhogs and bears - hibernate, while the deer and voles and coyotes and mink just try to glean enough from the dormant land to last until spring. The birds are a different story, and I wonder why any of them choose to stay when they are so well equipped to abandon the cold for a more hospitable climate. As I've noted, for some central New York is the warm south, but I'm confused by the continued presence of the pigeons perched on the telephone pole. They puff out their feathers and tuck in their heads against the cold, but it still looks to me like they'd be happier in Florida. At least the crows are their usual raucous selves as the hop about in the corn stubble and industriously peck at roadkill deer. Presumably the birds that do opt to stay have less competition for the food sources that remain, but I have a hard time believing they particularly enjoy the cold.

I'd be lying if I claimed to take the same pleasure in an overcast, freezing day as I do from a perfect spring afternoon, but I try to accept the weather with equanimity. Occasionally I even find myself enjoying the winter, though I've noticed this most often happens when it's at least sunny and when I'm doing something that is active enough to keep the blood flowing and that can be done in gloves, like splitting wood or walking a fence line. When it's blowing and far below zero all I can do is remember my old neighbor Don, who said he never understood why people around here spend so much time complaining about the cold - if you really don't like winter, you're living in the wrong place. That's usually enough to get me out the door, and I'm happy to see that pigeons and crows share this attitude.


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