Ah, winter. I’ll be honest – I’ve really come to love it.
It provides me with a much-needed break to get things done in the house. Once the snow gets knee-high outside, it becomes practically impossible to get any outdoor projects done. So I end up spending a lot more time than normal crossing items off my personal “want-to-do” list instead of my “must do” list.
I spend a lot of time reading, cooking, and, of course, catching up on sleep!
However, if you have a farm, winter isn’t all about relaxation. With the cooler weather and shorter days comes an increased likelihood of things going wrong. From freezing rain to snow and ice, there are plenty of opportunities for bad situations to arise.
Being one step ahead of the winter weather can help, but it seems as though each year, winter comes earlier and earlier.
Plan ahead now so that you don’t get caught unprepared with that winter storm does hit! If you’re not sure where to start – or if this is your first winter as a farmer or homesteader – take these tips into account.
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It doesn’t matter whether you have a farm or live in an apartment in the middle of a crowded city. Being aware of what’s going on, weather-wise and otherwise, is important.
Knowing what the weather is supposed to do will help you keep on top of any preparations you need to make. Check the NOAA website for updates and know the terminology: while a winter storm watch means that severe winter conditions (like heavy snow or ice) are possible within the next 12 to 36 hours, a warning means that these are expected within 24 hours and you could get more than 4 inches of snow or a ¼ inch of ice.
A blizzard warning, on the other hand, indicates that snow and strong winds (up to 35 mph) or coming. While winter weather, in general, presents serious challenges, a blizzard presents unique difficulties because you’ll have to guard your farm against wind damage addition to snow and ice.
Stay informed as bad weather approaches by listening to local news and weather channels. This can help you avoid dangerous situations – and to prepare yourself for the upcoming storm.
Batten Down the Hatches
Winterizing your home is one of the best ways to save money during the winter but it can also protect you against bad weather. Consider installing storm shutters, windows, and doors to keep chilling drafts out and remember to caulk and weatherstrip before winter approaches too.
You should also take the time to conduct repairs and inspections of your property. Take a look at your roof (not just on your home, but on your barns and outbuildings) to make sure they can handle a snow load. If there are any leaks or damages, fix them long before winter arrives.
In addition, you should add any necessary insulation. This can be formal, such as adding new insulation to your home, or informal – such as placing bales of straw around your chicken coop. Don’t forget about water lines, either – these freeze up quickly.
And then there’s fences and other farm-specific facilities. With nasty winter weather comes an increased likelihood of a fence getting knocked down by a fallen tree or a barn roof caving in under the snow load. Make sure you have wind barriers up and if there’s anything that needs fixing, do it before it becomes an emergency – or before your animals get out!
Have a Plan
At all times – but especially before a storm – make sure you have a plan in place for emergency situations. Know how you will get out if the road is not plowed and you have a medical situation to deal with. Have a standby electric generator, if possible, or at the very least, items like a shovel, road salt, and sandbags.
Make sure you have emergency farm supplies like plenty of extra food and water. Have a list of truckers, veterinarians, and suppliers that can help you out in the case of a farm emergency during a storm, too.
Consider How You’ll Stay Warm
One of the biggest challenges during a winter storm – particularly if you lose power or are dealing with unheated barns – is keeping everybody warm. While sitting in front of a crackling fire or furnace during a nasty blizzard is likely all you want to do, it’s important to plan ahead to make sure your animals stay toasty, too.
If you have a fireplace, make sure you know how to use it and that it is cleaned off. Bring plenty of wood inside in advance of the storm, or at least make sure it’s under cover. There’s nothing worse than discovering that all of your hard work was wasted because your freshly cut firewood is frozen to the ground.
You might also consider investing in other equipment like a woodstove or generator. A generator can power your entire house even when the rest of the town has no electricity. They can be expensive, but there are all kinds of models available from the company budget.
At the very least, keep some blankets around for warmth. You can never have too many!
And don’t forget about your animals. If you have livestock, you are going to need to work double time during a winter storm to make sure they stay warm. If they live mostly on pasture, get them inside before the storm starts. Even animals who are well-adapted to cold winter weather benefit from a place where they can dry off and get out of the elements.
For the most part, barns and other animal shelters do not need to be heated. These can actually pose some fire risks, too, so I never recommend putting heat lamps or any other type of ancillary heater in a barn.
Instead, make sure your animals have plenty of clean, fresh bedding – they will do the rest. Ensure that there is plenty of food and water out there, too. The process of eating and digesting food will help your animals stay warm without having to do anything else.
Plan Ahead for Food Preparation and Storage
If you’re reading this, you probably already do a good job of stockpiling food for the future. What you have hundreds of pounds of meat in the freezer or endless shelves of canned goods in your basement, you likely have the food storage goal under lock.
However, think about what will happen to your stockpile if you lose power. If it’s a cold enough winter storm, you may be able to transfer your frozen goods to an outdoor storage area – even in something as simple as a snowbank! But if the temperatures are above freezing, you may need to come up with an alternative solution.
When in doubt, always try to have as much canned food on hand as possible. It doesn’t need a freezer to last and stays toasty and safe to eat long after it’s been canned. The same goes for food that has been dehydrated.
And just because you have food stored up, don’t think your work is done – you also need to plan ahead for how you are going to prepare it if you lose power. If you only have electric appliances, make sure you stock up on provisions that can be eaten cold, like canned or dry goods.
Consider the investment of upgrading to gas appliances, too. Sure, they’re more expensive, but they’re also dependable regardless of the weather.
Some people also turn to ideas like building outdoor kitchens or installing wood stoves. These facilities are great at not just cooking your food but keeping you warm, too. If you don’t know how to cook over an open flame make sure you teach yourself how. It’s an invaluable skill.
Stock Up on Candles and Lanterns
If you lose power during a winter storm, you aren’t going to want to be fumbling around looking for a flashlight. Or worse, trying to go check on your livestock barns with no lighting at all. Make sure you have an idea of what you will use to light your way should the power go out.
Candles are good options because they are versatile and last forever, taking up minimal space. Of course, they do present a fire hazard, so keep that in mind. Another option is to purchase a lantern.
Just make sure you have enough light to get your chores done by.
Have Some Water Stashed and Thawed
Water is one of those things that you don’t think about much until you don’t have any. You need water at all times, even during the middle of a nasty winter storm.
Sure, you might be able to get by for a few days without bathing (although your relationships might suffer a bit). But you can’t get more than a few hours without drinking water.
Have a plan for what you will do – and how you will get water – if you lose electricity or your pipes freeze. And don’t forget that your animals will need water, too.
Consider investing in heated waterers for your animals but have a back-up plan in case you lose power. Here are a few ideas:
- Fill up old milk jugs with water and keep them on hand
- Fill your washing machine with water and store it in there
- Put the stopper in the bathtub and fill it with water
Begin thinking ahead about the water situation any time your area is under a weather advisory or watch. You won’t have to stress about how you’re going to get water when the power’s out and you are stranded from the rest of civilization.
If you have water lines running to barns or plumbing inside your home, a good rule of thumb is to keep your faucets going at a slow drip. This will help keep water moving through the pipes so they don’t freeze.
Your animals need to eat even in the midst of a catastrophic storm – in fact, they’ll probably need to eat more.
Stock up on extra grain and forage. Plus, make sure it’s stored in a dry location out of the water. This should preferably be a location that is easily accessible from the animal housing. You don’t want to be trudging through three feet of snow to get to your supply.
Check the Farm Each Day
The storm has passed – but your list of chores has not yet ended. Once the weather has cleared and it’s safe to be outside (at least, within reason), you can head out to start the cleanup.
Make sure you wear sturdy shoes and warm clothing to do this. Don’t try to do everything all at once – overexertion is a common cause of hospitalization during the winter months. If you’re shoveling, take your time and only lift small amounts – this can help prevent back and shoulder injuries.
Try to ensure that you have good footing when you’re cleaning up after a storm. Make sure somebody knows where you are at all times to avoid unnecessary accidents.
Inspect the farm after each storm, making sure each fence is intact and that no collapses have occurred.
If you have a non-permanent structure like a hoophouse, it’s important that you take the time to clear snow off of it, too. These often are not designed to handle the weight of heavy snow and ice. You could face collapse if you aren’t careful.
If you have any losses – whether that’s of livestock, buildings, or other property – make sure you take photographs. This will help you keep a clear head as you deal with the fallout,. It will be necessary if you submit anything for insurance purposes.
The most important thing you need to do to prepare the farm for a winter storm is to remember that safety is key. And it should always come first.
Have a plan in place to keep you and your livestock warm and sheltered from the storm .
You’ll weather anything Mother Nature throws at you.
What other tips do you have for making it through the roughest winter storms? Let me know in the comments!
Want to learn more about homesteading? You might be interested in reading these other posts.
- How to Butcher Chickens
- How to Keep Predators Away From Your Chicken
- The Best Egg-Laying Chicken Breeds
- The Ultimate Guide to the New Hampshire Chicken Breed
- How You Can Make Money Raising Chickens
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