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From frozen pipes to frozen manure, a winter full of headaches

Sarah Harris
This water trough on Kevin teRiele's farm freezes a lot.

This year's deep, prolonged freeze has sent frost as much as six feet underground -- deeper than usual. The result is a lot of frozen pipes. Towns, villages and cities across the region report problems with frozen water systems. The deep freeze has also been hard on farmers.

Kevin teRiele is a dairy farmer in Canton who is tired of winter in part, because it makes his work harder. "The biggest issue for most of us is frozen manure," he said.

Like many dairy farmers, teRiele uses an automatic manure scraper. It looks like a big anchor attached to a cable. It drags along the barn floor and pulls manure toward a pit. In the cold weather, teRiele said manure builds up on the cables, the wheels freeze and the machine squeaks.

"Worst case scenario," he said, "is the scrapers breaks, the drop pits fills up with manure and don’t flow out."

That has not happened yet, but the prospect of frozen manure worries dairy farmers across the North Country. TeRiele said another problem is regular chores just take longer in the cold. In another of teRiele's barns — what he calls the maternity ward -- one door – is frozen. So is the cows’ water trough. TeRiele said they have to cut holes in the ice so the cows can drink.

TeRiele said with these low temperatures, it is very important to keep newborn calves dry and warm. They are wet when they are born and he does not want them to freeze, so the calves go into a little blue box.

Credit Sarah Harris / NCPR
Farmers put newborn cows in a heated box to keep them warm this winter.

"It’s a calf warming box but we call it the hotbox," teRiele explained. "It works like a hairdryer and it’s just got an electric heater." TeRiele opened it and revealed two baby calves that were born this morning, nestled inside.

It is not only farm life that is hard in the cold. Villages across the region are struggling with frozen water systems.

Hassan Fayad, superintendent of public works for the village of Massena, said the village has had more than 35 frozen water service laterals in the last 14 days.

"So when people turn on their faucets they have no water so we end up going to try and help them out," he said.

Fayad said some water mains have also frozen, and fixing them means working outside in the frigid temperatures.

"What we had to do is dig through the frost and expose the pipe and the break and then make our necessary repair on that line."

Scott Thornhill runs public works for the city of Ogdensburg. He said they are struggling with the same issues. But there was one ray of hope on a particularly cold day.

“We had a very nice lady bring — as the two shifts were leaving — one was coming in and one was leaving – a lady who was appreciative of the service brought them donuts and bagels," said Thornhill.

Temperatures are supposed to climb into the high twenties by next week. Until then, officials said to be smart about freezing pipes. Seventeen towns suggest residents leave their water turned on to a trickle, just in case.

Sarah is a correspondent for North Country Public Radio, based in Canton, N.Y.