Just when it appears Mother Nature is ready to bid adieu to Old Man Winter, she allows him one last foray of frozen fun.

After flirting with several days of temperatures that suggested spring finally was upon us, Winter Storm Vulcan broke records this past week when it dumped 6 inches of snow in Chicago and as much as 2 feet in New England.

The storm ushered in a cold front that has dropped temperatures back below freezing, and in some cases about 20 degrees below normal. The return to frigid weather adds yet another obstacle in an already difficult job for farriers. The cold not only makes it uncomfortable to work, it leaves metal tools gelid and hooves hard.

Frost Bites

During the long, bitter Wisconsin winters, Butler farrier Mark Ellis totes around a portable Dyna-Glo Pro propane heater. Although he uses it to warm up, it also serves another purpose.

“If I start using my tools right now, my hands will stick right to them,” Ellis says on a particularly frosty morning at Willow Run Stables in Mequon.

You might remember a scene from the 1983 movie “A Christmas Story” when Schwartz triple-dog-dares Flick to stick his tongue on the flagpole in the school playground. Well, the results are similar, although admittedly a little less painful.

After lining up his tools in front of the heater, Ellis flips a switch. The barn fills with the sound of a small jet engine. Almost immediately, the metal tools begin sweating. Within 8 minutes, the tools are dry.

“Another advantage to doing this,” Ellis says, “is it keeps my hands from getting cold.” 

Cold Feet

Another form of portable heat can make a farrier’s job a whole lot easier.

After removing a shoe and picking the foot, Ellis fires up a Coleman propane torch and takes several swipes across the bottom.

“This just softens it up,” Ellis says, “so it’s easier to pare the sole.”

Not only does it allow the knife to pass through the dead sole easier, it also eases stress on your hands and wrists.

As spring officially arrives next week, let’s hope warmer weather is on the way.