MILWAUKEE – When it's 25 below zero, a lot of things can go wrong on a farm.
For instance, try fixing a frozen manure spreader in this wicked weather.
The spreader's chains are broken, or maybe the tractor pulling it has stalled out. Either way, when fresh manure starts to freeze, the problem gets worse.
Early Wednesday, dairy farmer Emily Harris, of Monroe, Wisconsin, went out to milk cows only to find that everything was frozen solid in the milking parlor.
It was an awful start to her day, which began around 4 a.m.
"This is crap. I have never seen such a thing," Harris said. "The cows are keeping the barn warm enough, but the milk house is frozen."
Near Tomah, Wisconsin, beef cattle farmers Bill and Natalie Divyak struggled with machinery that wouldn't function like it was supposed to.
With the wind chill, it was about 50 below at their farm.
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"Anything metal doesn't want to work. Silo unloaders freeze up, conveyor belts slip and don't want to move," Natalie said.
It's hard on the humans, too.
"Bill's glasses froze up. He had to come back inside to warm up because he couldn't see," Natalie said. "He thawed out his fingers (and his glasses) and went right back out again."
In this extreme cold, safety experts say you shouldn't stay outside for more than a few minutes at a time. But often farmers don't have that choice, especially when they need to care for their livestock.
Dairy farmer Carrie Mess, of Watertown, Wisconsin, said her farm was moving calves into a heated equipment building.
"A lot of people use heat lamps in calf hutches, but we moved away from that because it's a fire hazard," Mess said.
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Her farm's arsenal against the extreme cold includes powerful "torpedo" portable heaters, electric heat tape on water pipes and straw bales for insulation.
All of her cows have been moved into one barn, which is a bit crowded, but the extra body heat helps keep them warm.
"We will do our best, but there's always a chance that some heifers will get frostbite on their ears," Mess said.
Farmers say livestock can handle bitter cold weather, provided the animals stay dry and out of the wind.
"The first thing we do in weather like this is to protect our animals," said Bob Roden, a dairy farmer from West Bend, Wisconsin.
Water tanks for cattle on his farm have submersible electric heaters to keep them from freezing, and Roden piles snow around the tanks for insulation.
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His cows get extra feed because they need the calories to stay warm.
His tractors are kept in a heated shed, and he mixes kerosene with diesel fuel so the tractors run better in the cold.
Some of the newer equipment has heated cabs, so it's not so hard on the operators.
"Years ago we never had all that stuff," Roden said.
"The biggest thing now is we have all these extra costs to keep everything heated. It's kind of a bummer, but what else are you going to do?"
The cold wreaks havoc on tractor batteries, and diesel fuel can gel until it's as thick as Jell-O and clogs fuel lines. Tires flatten easier, too.
Sometimes farmers take off their gloves, when they need them the most, because getting a grip with gloved fingers is nearly impossible.
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If you spill fuel on your hands, they turn to ice in seconds, said Danny Strupp, owner of Strupp Implements, a farm machinery dealership in Slinger.
“Batteries, hydraulics, fuel, everything is cold. It’s like taking your car, or your tractor, and putting it in a freezer,” Strupp said.
Wednesday morning, two of his shop’s mechanics were making farm service calls, and one guy was out in the dealership’s driveway trying to get a tractor started.
“It’s just too darn cold. That darn thing won’t crank over,” Strupp said.
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Think it's hard for you to deal with the cold weather? Imagine being a farmer