Winter Farming Essentials
We are battening down the hatches today as a Nor'easter rolls into Maine. In fact, there's snowfall forecasted nearly ever day for the next week, holding true to the Farmer's Almanac prediction of a stormy February 2017.
Weather is a hot topic here in Maine, where the winter months can be relatively mild and gray or frigid and puncuated by steadily mounting snowfall. That's why we stock up on snow shovels, snow tires, snow everything as winter approaches.
Below I've listed some of the things that make farming easier for me during the winter. Feel free to add your own suggestions, I'm always looking for ways to stay comfortable through the Maine winter.
Good Snow Pants
The proper gear is, of course, key to being comfortable while you're out doing chores in subzero temperatures. Snow pants that keep out moisture and cold, or even a full snow suit, will turn daily activities from shivering misery to something you barely complain about. Carhartt makes a classic farmer onesie that is the go-to for many of my friends, but anything that keeps you warm and dry on your legs and core will do the trick.
Never, ever overlook a good pair of winter gloves. The best brand in my opinion is SSG, their Winter Rancher gloves mean you barely feel the cold winds. Caring for animals you will be doing a lot of work with your hands and you need them to be functional, and you also will more than likely get splashed with water on more than one occasion, and you don't need your fingers to freeze. Good, thickly lined winter gloves are absolutely essential, and make sure to pick ones that fit your hands so that you still have good dexterity.
Every farmer needs a good pair of boots. In winter, make sure your boots are either lined or have plenty of room for extra pairs of wooly socks. Waterproofing is also important, especially when spring melts start to bring out puddles everywhere.
Ice/Snow Boot Grips
Ice grips for your boots are a blessing, especially if your farm has any sloping or un-level ground that you're going to have to traverse throughout the winter. Some winters may pass without you needing them, but other months you will be wearing them every single day. There's a wide variety of options out there (of varying effectiveness), but most farmers I know prefer Yaktrax.
A Plan for Water
Water is vital for your animals all the time, and especially in winter when the air is dry and cold. Making sure your animal's water isn't frozen will keep you busy multiple times a day, but there are ways to make it easier. For large livestock they make special water heaters that will go into big stock tanks. For small flocks of poultry you can get a heated dog water bowl that will keep the water unfrozen down below 0 degrees. I like using rubber water buckets whenever possible, as the ice cracks out of them with ease. Whatever your solution, don't let it take the place of good, old-fashioned checking on the water buckets.
Plenty of Supplies
Stock up on grain, hay, firewood, and your essentials before winter, and on nice warm and sunny days through the winter months. It may seem like you've got plenty of feed, but if it is blowing snow for several days you may not be able to get to the feed store. You also don't know if they might be out of something, or if there could be a shortage of the type of hay you need, so it's always good to have a full loft before winter begins.
Long Johns & Thick Socks
Before you put on the snow suit, gloves, and your big winter coat, make sure you're warm underneath. Invest in a few quality pairs of nice, thick long johns and some big wool socks. Warm feet can make all the difference, and don't hesitate to layer up before you head out into the cold.
Blankets, Heat Lamp(s), First Aid Kit
You never know what might happen. It's important to keep a farm first aid kit well supplied throughout the year, and during winter make sure to add a few heavy blankets and heat lamps to your collection. I do not recommend using heat lamps regularly in a coop or a barn: they are a fire hazard. But buying one or two in case you need to warm someone up quickly is a good idea.
Good Shove & Snow Removal Plan
It might seem obvious, but make sure you've got a couple of good, strong shovels before snow flies. Don't skimp on a cheap shovel: heavy snow will break them. Get nice quality ones, and have a plan for snow removal. If you have someone to plow or a tractor or plow yourself, that can be the easiest solution. You can also snow blow or shovel paths yourself (and in some areas you'll need to even if you also have a plow). But have a plan for where you're putting all that snow and where the paths will go. Once and a while it will start snowing and just not stop or melt for several weeks, and your paths will get narrower and narrower while your snow piles get taller. That's when it is good to have a plan.
Farmers do not always have the luxury of sitting by the fire and sipping cocoa, although we enjoy those moments as much or more as the next person. But all those times we are outside cracking ice and shoveling snow are well worth it, as our happy animals munch hay with contentment in even the coldest of weather.