Winter means Union Bridge dairy farmer David V. Lease finally gets to take an afternoon nap.
The effects of rising at 4 a.m. to do the day's first milking usually sink in by the middle of the day, but during the growing season, when he and his brother have 700 acres of grain to tend to as well as 120 cows, a nap is out.
But in the winter, he can burrow into his warm New Windsor house and snooze for two hours after lunch.
"I don't even answer the phone," said Lease, who farms with his brother, Sam, on Ladiesburg Road.
The extra hours also give him more time to spend with his sons, ages 3 and 4 months, he said.
For Upperco grain farmer Clarence Mielke, winter means he can tinker on a miniature John Deere tractor during the day and hook rugs in the evening.
The 53-year-old said he doesn't have time for his hobbies at other times of year when he and his two brothers are planting and harvesting grain on 3,500 acres in Carroll and Baltimore counties.
Charles Mielke, 48, said sometimesin the winter he sleeps until 7 a.m., giving him a good three hours of sleep more than he would get during the growing season.
"It feels good to lie longer, but it's a bad habit to get into," he said.
Even though farmers have more free time during the cold months, they're not idle. They're poring over records to decide what to plant next year, repairing equipment, feeding animals and delivering grain.
"This time of year it's only a nine-hour day instead of a 12-hour day," said Hampstead hog farmer Holly Fleming. "It's not as if it were a vacation period. It's just less pressing from day to day."
She and her husband, David, still must spend about five hours a day feeding their hogs. But because they don't have to worry about crops, she said she saves household projects to do in the winter months.
The Flemings are renovating their old farmhouse, and she said she tries toget her husband to reserve two weeks in the winter to devote to the house. But with meetings to attend, tax forms to complete, firewood to split and manure to spread, time slips away.
"You save all thesejobs for winter, and March comes and you don't have anything done," she lamented.
Donald Lippy, a Hampstead grain farmer, said he and his family usually get away for a vacation during the cold weather, either down to the sand in Florida or the slopes in New England.
Heand his brothers also spend time in the winter figuring out whether they made money on the year's crop.
This winter, grain and dairy farmers are worried about the prices they're getting for their products.
Corn prices are down because of abundant supplies and decreasedexports, said Lippy, who's on the board of directors for the National Corn Growers Association.
George Mielke said he's trying to figure out now which combination of crops will be most profitable next year based on current and projected prices. Almost all of the soybeans the family grows are exported, and when exports are slow, that hurts,he said.
"Our winters are made up of reviewing this year and looking ahead to next year," he said.
The Mielkes grow corn, soybeans,wheat and barley.
Clarence Mielke said he's not optimistic about prices for the crops the family will plant this spring.
"If it doesn't change, you'll be lucky if you can break even," he said.
The price of a bushel of corn is down about 4 percent from last year, said John Campen, director of marketing development for the NCGA in St. Louis.
But year-to-year comparisons are tough to do because many factors influence the price, including world events, the price of oil and supply and demand, he said. The price can change daily or even more frequently, he said.
The price dairy farmers are receiving for their milk has dropped about 26 percent from last year, said Boyd Cook, manager of Dairymen Inc., a milk co-op in Eldersburg. The price has hit close to bottom and is projected to stay at that level through June, he said.
Prices are down mainly because supply is outpacing demand, said Ralph Strock, chief executive officer of the Middle Atlantic Milk Marketing Association in Towson, Baltimore County.