We now know it was the coldest November/ December since records began, and there is some gratification in that statement, because it certainly felt like it to the workers and livestock at Church Farm.
Staff were unrecognisable in their multiple layers of coats, gloves & hats. In the severe cold the outdoor pigs began to get red skin on their trotters – similar to chilblains, despite their extra thick bed of straw. Some piglets were born in the midst of the freeze but the sow had them well positioned in the ark & snug in the straw.
A couple of pigs had to be moved to a different pen and encountered an ice patch on the yard. It’s only then that you realise having trotters must be like wearing high heels. They became very wary and took a little coaxing to reach home. I’d never seen “Pigs on Ice” before.
The Suffolk Punch horses missed their walkabout as it was too dangerous to risk them slipping. A heavy horse would fall very heavily, of course. If it’s any consolation to the animals the staff all took tumbles. We must have walked the same stretch of yard dozens of times but the ice catches you out when you least expect it. One of our number fell sideways, hit the floor, recovered and was up again before anyone noticed, (I know because I checked)
By far the worst problem during those weeks was the frozen water taps, troughs, drinkers, bottles and bowls. Interestingly, animals seem to go into semi-hibernation in the cold and manage with minimal water. The sheep and cattle in the fields derive some water from the snow and grass, but animals on dry feed such as hay, do need their water supply.
It was physically wearing and time consuming carrying water from the single remaining functional tap to all the livestock. The pigs found sport in tipping over their buckets with a toss of their snouts (thus creating the ice patch we all slipped on.)
Even the water containers in the indoor animal pens froze solidly. On the coldest days all water was thawed and refreshed three times a day! Handy Tip – Put a clean, old sock over rabbit bottles to prevent water freezing quite so easily.
Ice in the field troughs built up daily, resulting in a layer one foot thick. Then, when the ice was broken through to the water below, there was not much drinkable water available, and it could not refill. The cattle were getting very low on water when the thaw finally came.
East Anglia luckily missed most of the snowy weather, but there was just enough snow to assist Father Christmas’s sleigh to Church Farm. Well done to all the visitors who braved the elements. Did you notice? Father Christmas seemed quite at home in the cold.