November 7th…“IF THERE IS SUCH A THING, SHARE WITH US A WARM AND COZY MEMORY DURING THE WINTER ON YOUR FARM THERE IN SOUTHERN MINNESOTA.”
It was a black evening as a steel-cold, Polar Express wind screamed up over the top of Charlie Heitzeg’s hill, to our east, and came barreling down with its frozen intent of slamming into our farmstead. I was standing inside of our barn, near the dutch entry door when that gust assaulted the bulwark of our “Noah’s Ark” that kept our livestock (and us) safe and relatively comfortable from the killing chill just outside.
True, Winter’s icy fingers had clutched upon our Norwegian family’s farmstead once again. Each year, this grip of white starkness slowed down every phase of life, both for our animals, and we as their caretakers. As I shared in earlier stories, while a young boy, I often found refuge from the frigid fangs of the assailing winter’s cold by first bracing myself against the leeward side of our granary building. Then, I’d draw a deep breath and hold it to prevent the screeching snow winds from sucking the air right out of my lungs, causing me to gasp it back in. Leaning into that power-punch of winter’s blast, I’d then push forward, with trudging steps, to make my way to the Dutch-door (split door that could open at top/bottom or both) and yank it open to jump inside the “jungle” atmosphere of our barn. “Jungle” I describe, because with 15 fully grown Holstein cows and up to 24 or more younger animals; their combined body heat and moisture content made our barn a cozy place to get away from the wicked cold outside.
When my evening chores in the barn were completed to Dad’s satisfaction, I remember pulling on and zipping up my thick, winter’s jacket to the highest hilt. This would cause the fur collar to regally pop up and become a shield as it wrapped its fur around my neck. Lastly, I would pull on my thick mittens and set out from the warmth of our dairy barn; plotting a course for the hog house on the east side of our farmyard property.
As my rubber, buckled boots crunched their way along the snowbanks and icy path, I could see a faint glow of the heat lamps through the windows of our hog house as I approached. Once inside, I could hear playful grunts and pig giggles of numerous litters (group or family of baby pigs). They were not only enjoying a meal from their mother sow, but also the warmth of the big heat lamps that Dad had set up for their comfort and survival against another brutal Minnesota winter.
Like any mother, a sow will valiantly protect her young piglets if anyone would try to get near them. But, in our case, my dad was now using a fairly new invention called a “farrowing crate”. This V-shaped, metal, tubular device restricted the sow’s movements so that she wouldn’t inadvertently lay down and crush her little ones. Soooo, being that momma sow was now “under control” inside the farrowing crate, I could quietly climb over the wooden railings of the pig pen and sit down in the straw where the piglets played.
As the blizzard winds howled outside these walls, you could happily find me cozily sitting beneath those hog house heat lamps. My playful, puny, porker pals slowly became accustomed to this giant playmate that had just arrived and, eventually, came to count me as one of their own. In a gleeful, rambunctious joy, they included me in their romping, stomping and playful chases. All the while, I just sat there, in one soft straw spot, so as not to scare them by any quick movements on my part. Those tiny four-legged friskies, with pointy hooves, played “leap frog” over my legs as we all basked in the glow of our happy hog heaven under Daddy’s heat lamps in the hog house of this Norwegian Farmer’s Son.