Sunday, December 23, 2007

32 words for snow

There's an old saw that some of the native people of the Arctic
tundra have lots of words for what we call snow. So do I. Most of
them have four letters and aren't suitable for use in a PG-13 space
such as this.

But over the last few weeks of this very early onset of persistent
snow cover, it has been interesting to learn again how different snow
conditions can be from storm to storm, and even how much snow can
change from morning to afternoon -- even when it's just sitting there
on the ground.

Sheep can do a certain amount of grazing though deep snow, if it's
light and fluffy and the pasture under the snow is longish and of
good nutritional value. But once the snow becomes heavy and packed
down or if the pasture is poor quality, the amount of energy they
expend getting to the feed by pawing the snow away can exceed the
amount of energy they get from eating the pasture, and they start to
lose weight.

So the first thing a shepherd notices about the snow is whether the
sheep can graze through it or not. So far, even though there's nearly
30 inches of snow on the ground, my sheep are still finding ways to
get at a few tasty morsels when they can. But the quality of the
pasture isn't adequate, so I have started to feed them stored feed --
the oat and pea balage that earlier entries have described.

That means using a tractor in the snow. When it's cold (like 10
degrees F or lower) snow is very slippery. When it's closer to
freezing, it's actually a really good surface to operate a tractor on.

The coming week is supposed to be warm and sunny, with temps above
freezing every day. I expect we'll lose a lot of snow, maybe even
most of it. I'll cry no tears. Sorry skiers.