Canadian winter temperatures rough on Europeans

The snow crunches underfoot; sparkling diamonds in the bright sunlight. Morning temperatures hover between minus 15 and minus 20 degrees Celsius. Despite the cold I’m so thrilled that the sun is shining for the fourth day in a row. I was starting to feel as grey and foggy as the weather outside was for weeks. But not everyone is as thrilled as I am.

In this beautiful valley, behind the scenes, farmers are fighting frozen water lines and sick animals.

What is a normal winter for us Canadians makes the Swiss feel like they’ve been transported to Siberia. That would be even worse. Newspapers report daily on the latest death toll. Over 300 people in Europe have died to date in this extraordinary cold spell, with Ukraine and Poland reporting the highest losses. According to the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, the Ukraine reports 121 dead. Most of those are homeless, but 30 were found dead at home, due to lack of adequate heating.

The Swiss aren’t dying, but many living in old poorly insulated houses are feeling the temperatures keenly. Farmers too are struggling. Margrit Gasser says she would enjoy the sun and snow if she had the time. The Gassers have been battling frozen water lines and calves with Pneumonia. Few livestock setups are equipped for this kind of cold weather. Gassers were – until a fuse went out at night, and the water heaters froze too. Their son Benjamin, who took over the farm recently, is gone for his mandatory annual military training (one week/year) this week. Murphy’s Law!

Ten days ago it looked and felt like spring - one of the very few sunny mornings we had before this cold spell.

My cousin Res Lehmann said he was watering cows by hand for the first time in his over 20 year farming career. Thankfully he only has about 30 cows to water. He hopes to get the water lines running again. The cows don’t get enough to drink from the pail, and milk quantity drops drastically.

The manure is piling up in frozen heaps at Markus Stamm’s farm. His father Hans told me the manure scraper stopped working some days ago. The real mess will be when it all starts to thaw. But that won’t happen before the end of the week. There’s no thawing weather in the forecast for now.

The picturesque old village of Schleitheim, tucked between snow covered hills, looks and feels like an alpine ski resort this week. On Sunday many braved the ‘cold’ (minus 10C) to go for a walk in the winter wonderland. It’s hard to believe there were snow drops and the first crocus blooming a week ago. It’s been a warm winter until now, too warm many said. The winter cereals were still a healthy green, even if they weren’t growing.

So I guess we were due for a correction. For those with good heating systems and no cattle, all is well. It reminds me of minus 40C on the Canadian prairies. That’s always a hard period for cattle farmers to get through too – especially if they are calving already. What is cold is a relative number.

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