Why not take the team out to feed the cows when it is 1 degree above zero? At least the air is still, even if clouds are completely blocking the sun and a gentle mist of snow is falling from above. We’ve only fed with the team once, and that was before we had the new harnesses, refurbished by a generous man from the Montana Draft Horse and Mule Association. The team has been away; we are borrowing them after all, and their owner requested their presence for a few days. The wagon was gone too, for holiday rides with Santa, and only came back to the ranch yesterday. With everything finally back in one place, we can’t not feed with the team this morning. It is positive one degree after all, not negative.
On go the layers: long johns, canvas pants, and wool pants on the bottom with two long john tops, a sweater, down vest, wool shirt and canvas work coat on top. Then a unique neck/head tube from my friend Pippi, a silk scarf and an alpaca wool hat made in Bozeman to top it all off. We are ready to roll!
I give the dogs a boost onto the loaded hay wagon and grab the reins while Bart hitches up the horses. It is a quiet, smooth, and beautiful ride down the county road.
When the cows see us approaching, they run and a few even buck with excitement. Maverick whines and quivers, eager to work the cows. Doc quivers too, but his shakes are from the cold. This twelve-year-old bird dog is not too impressed with the whole affair. I pile some loose hay in a corner of the wagon to make a bed for him out of the wind. Then I climb on top of the hay, eager to move a bit and pitch bales to get my blood moving.
Bart moves the team a little way at a time so I can spread the hay out. I break the small squares roughly into thirds and toss them left, right, back. Move forward. Left, right, back again. I am toasty warm, and slow my pace to avoid getting sweaty, a sure way to get chilled to the bone in this cold. Bart’s beard has become iced over, creating a frosty face mask.
We circle the wagon around and stop by the creek to open the ice for the cows. On the way home, we walk the horses, careful not to let them get too sweaty and chilled either. The drive back seems to take five times as long as the way out, with the chill setting into my toes and fingers. I move my limbs vigorously back and forth to shake blood out to the extremities. The snowflakes become fatter as they drift down, beginning to coat Doc’s back as he lays curled in his hay bed. It was a beautiful and thrilling journey, and I am glad to return home to the warmth of the cabin, where I put on a pot of tea immediately. What a great way to start the day!