With the first snowfall of winter, Nip 'n' Tuck Farm in West Tisbury is quiet outside. The farm equipment out in the field is covered, and a tractor sits decorated in dual shades of rust and fresh snow. The landscape is motionless.
Inside the worn old barn, Fred S. Fisher 3rd, 49, goes about the chores he has done since youth.
A small radio plays country music. The volume is turned down low. "I think the cows like the country, I leave it on all night," Mr. Fisher says as he spreads fresh hay with a pitchfork.
Today is a first day for a new visitor to the barn: a black and white calf born one week ago. The animal is timid; its legs shake as it stands. Mr. Fisher explains he has found a place on its head where he can scratch with his fingers and win the animal's undivided attention. It is a beginning in the nonverbal connection between the farmer and his livestock.
"See, right here," he says, as his fingers move gently.
There are 10 cows in the barn. To meet the family needs, one is for milking. Four cows are grade beef cows. There are more calves coming.
Winters are stark at the 60-acre farm. On this afternoon the air is still and icicles hang from the barn roof. But even with the temperature outside at 30 degrees, the farmer has plenty to do.
To make ends meet, Mr. Fisher says he does a lot of things in the winter, much of it work away from the animals. "I run a trucking business. I sell firewood. For 20 years I used to go oystering," he says. There are no oysters for harvesting this year in the Tisbury Great Pond. And so the winter becomes a little more lean.
Last weekend Mr. Fisher took his two Bergeron horses Pearl and Bell to downtown Vineyard Haven. With the help of an assistant he hitched up the two to a hayride wagon. For three hours he ran rides between Bowl and Board on Main street to the Tisbury Marketplace on Beach Road. Back and forth he went. The ride is a few minutes long and is intended to encourage shoppers to visit both downtown shopping areas. "The horses know the way," he says.
"I'd have a hard time trying to tell the horses to go a different route," he says. "I've been doing these rides for years."
Mr. Fisher's customer is the Tisbury Business Association and he'll be doing the horse and wagon rides again this weekend.
Fred Fisher is easy to spot at this time of year. He wears red coveralls that hang on his lean frame from collar to shoes. His signature hat is a railroad engineer's hat - the same hat his father wore when he worked the farm that has been in the Fisher family since 1956. Fred Fisher died in 1998.
It can be a hard life on the farm at times, Mr. Fisher admits. The barn building is tired and sagging, held up by huge beams overhead and below.
From State Road, the barn towers over the landscape, set back a bit from the fields on a small hill. Horses are kept below, at ground level. Two heavy-weather gray doors require two hands to move.
To make up for the poor economics of winter, Mr. Fisher likes to ride the hay wagon through the streets of Tisbury. When it snows he will plow for customers.
He also sells hay, some of it to other farmers for livestock feed, but much of it these days is for construction sites.
On the other side of the farmhouse sits the chicken coop, home to 120 chickens. Fresh eggs are ready for gathering. Mr. Fisher fills a five-gallon bucket with no trouble and no cracked eggs. A cacophony of clucking fills the coop. Mr. Fisher's feet move as he wades ankle-deep through bobbing and pecking hens, flapping wings and stray feathers.
Not far from the barn there is another outbuilding where three sows are kept. "I hope to yield 25 piglets in the spring," the farmer says.