When the Weather Outside is Frightful…
and the fire inside is delightful, it’s tempting to stay warm rather than attend to your outdoor chores. Although some outside work can wait for warmer days, or can be done before the snow flies, there are still a myriad of responsibilities that just can’t wait.
Taking Care of Your Livestock
Don’t neglect the feathered and furry members of your homestead in the winter. Your livestock depends on you for their food, water, and bedding. Larger animals, like horses and cattle, may be able to paw through the snow for grass (if the snow isn’t too deep and there is forage available) and as long as there is a source of open water, they may be fine without a lot of attention. Just make sure that they aren’t in danger of breaking through ice in their search for water and they have shelter and feed when the winds are blowing and sleet is falling.
Poultry and smaller animals need more care than some of the larger herd animals. Make sure they have dry shelter and protection from drafts. For the most part, your poultry don’t need a heat lamp. They should do fine without supplemental heat, unless temps drop down into the single digits or below. The exception is young poultry that don’t have their adult feathers grown in…be sure the little ones have a heat lamp or warm brooder to keep them at the proper temperature. Be extremely careful when using a heat lamp in your barn or coop. Heat lamps are one of the major causes of barn fires and need to be handled with care.
All livestock need a source of drinkable water, so keep their water dishes or stock tanks free of ice with an electric or solar powered deicer made specifically for this purpose. Also make sure that your animals have the proper feed and bedding available to keep them healthy and dry. Keep extra grain on hand in case you’re snowed in and can’t get to the feed store. You also need to keep an eye out for hungry predators searching for easy meals in your barnyard. Protect your livestock with good fencing, a livestock guard dog, or your firearm.
Choose the Right Livestock for Your Climate
Start out with the best livestock for your climate and you’ll have fewer problems with keeping them healthy in the winter. Some breeds do better in cold winters, such as Buckeye and Turken chickens, Narranganset turkeys, Tamworth hogs, and Belted Galloway and Highland cattle. Do your research before you start buying your livestock to prevent cold weather problems later.
Your Hearth and Home
Of course you’ll also want to make sure that your family and home are taken care of in the cold weather. Keep extra winter clothes and gear on hand and ready to throw on in a minute’s notice. You never know when an emergency might spring up. Keep extra non-perishable food and water on hand in case of power outages or blocked roadways. If you have a wood stove, make sure there is plenty of firewood for the winter, covered and ready to use. Keep some in a wood box in the house for nights when it is brutally cold outside. The chimney needs to be cleaned and checked every year before you start your first fire, and the ashes should be cleaned out often. A good wood stove can keep your family warm and fed, and prevent frozen pipes when the electricity is out.
Be sure that your paths and driveway are shoveled and plowed so you can get outside and take care of your barn chores, or get out of the driveway for work or emergencies. It’s a good idea to have a couple of extra shovels in the garage so the whole family can get in on the exercise! You’ll also want to keep your vehicles cleaned of snow and ice in case you need to get to the doctor’s office or drugstore quickly. In addition, you should always keep your gas tanks filled at least half full and make sure you have warm blankets, emergency rations, water, windshield washer fluid, jumper cables, chains, a shovel, list of emergency phone numbers, and a bag of kitty litter (for traction) in your car or truck in case you run into problems on your drive.
Pets in Winter
Make sure your pets are well cared for in cold weather. It’s best if cats and dogs can come in the house or barn during freezing temperatures to keep them safe and warm. Let’s face it, a dog house is really only suitable for cold hardy dogs like Huskies and Great Pyrenees. They might enjoy the cold weather and want to stay outside, but your pets need a warm, dry place in winter. Make sure they also have fresh, unfrozen water and some extra chow on hand to keep them healthy.
Equipment on the Winter Homestead
Make sure that all essential equipment is in good running condition, fuel additives and stabilizers have been added, and snow removal equipment has had a tune up before you get into the deep winter conditions. Of course, it’s best if this has already been taken care of by the time the first snow flies and the temps drop. But do it now if you haven’t already! Have your snow blowers and plows ready ahead of time to prevent problems when winter weather hits hard. Put a newly sharpened chain on your chainsaw and keep your shovels in a cold place to prevent snow from building up on them in use. Keep some animal-safe deicing salt on hand for your drive and walk ways. Sand may also come in handy if you have it.
Hopefully you won’t need to shovel excessive snow loads off your roof, or remove fallen trees from your driveway, but if you run into those issues, you want to be prepared with the proper equipment in good working order!
What do you do to prepare for winter weather on your homestead? Do you have any advice for homesteaders that I didn’t include?
Note: If your chickens are still laying eggs, be sure to collect them several times a day to prevent freezing. Frozen eggs may crack (I feed these to the dog or back to the chickens) and even if they don’t, they are difficult to whisk or scramble.