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Preparing the Farm for a Winter Storm

Winter weather is a challenge for the farmer, and it's always good to spend some time preparing your homestead before a big storm moves in. We are expecting up to two feet of snow here this weekend, our first really major storm of the winter.

When a storm hits, the key thing is that you don't want to have to leave your farm. It's all about stocking up, bedding down, and settling in.

The Goats

Goats are picky when it comes to weather and going outside, and mine won't venture into the pasture if there is one flake of snow in the forecast. Because I know this about my goats, I spend a lot of time preparing their stalls when any snow or extreme cold is in the forecast.

I do not use the deep litter method with my goats. Our stall space for them, at the moment, is small and we have nine goats who will turn a huge section of the stall into a frozen mound of pee in only a day or two. Too much bedding makes it almost impossible to dig out what freezes, and I'm not a big fan of extra smells and dust in the barn. So, I do a full scrape down to the floorboards as often as once a week in winter. It may not be the most cost-effective way to bed, but it pays for itself in my goat's comfort.

When a storm is coming I make sure the fresh bedding is deep and stock up on backup shavings. Because they won't be going outside I add a little bit to their daily feeding. I always double check my hay and grain supplies, but water is something that I'll have to go out during the storm to address. We don't use heated water buckets because I'm nervous about the potential for fire, so three times a day I'll chip every icicle out and fill their buckets with warm water. I use warm water partly because it heats them up as they drink it, and also because it will take longer to re-freeze.

You can, and many goat farmers do, feed warm mash or heated oats on a very cold day. My goats turn up there noses at anything that isn't in their regular diet, so I gave up on that some time ago.

In addition to caring for the basic needs of the goats, it's also a good idea to check the security of their house especially if high winds are forecasted. Check that doors are all securely shut and latched, and address any cracks or holes around windows. That will help ensure they are snug through any weather.

The Birds

As with the goats, deep clean bedding is the first thing I worry about when getting our chickens, guineas, and geese ready for a winter storm. I bed all our animals in shavings, but straw can work just as well as long as it is clean and deep.

The geese will chose to sit outside in even a strong winter storm, but for their own safety I'll put them in and latch their door if the weather is particularly bad. They can tuck their feed up inside their down for warmth, so they are rarely cold, but gusts of wind blow through their feathers and falling snow melting on them can give them a chill.

Geese will need their water checked regularly during a storm. In addition to drinking they need it to bathe and swallow their food, so break out any ice and refresh their buckets with clean water throughout the day. If I have to keep birds locked inside (the chickens won't venture out in anything worse than balmy weather) I feed treats regularly: kitchen scraps for the chickens and greens such as lettuce heads for the geese.

The Property

Before a storm it is always a good idea to check on all of your fences, barn doors and windows, etc. Make sure everything is secure and remove any ice or snow around doors or gates - you'll be piling up more, and want to be able to open and close them.

It is also good to keep an eye on snow levels around fences throughout the winter, to ensure that the pack of snow isn't getting high enough that animals could jump out. After every snowfall we do a major snow removal push, keeping the yard clear of the white stuff to ensure that movement around the barnyard is easy. Keeping snow cleared away also helps in the spring, when mud from melting snow is an issue.

The Home

Finally, you should also think of yourself. Here in Maine the joke is that all grocery store shelves are cleared of milk, bread, and Allen's Coffee Brandy before a storm. If you are a homesteader, hopefully you already have plenty of food put away for winter. But this is a great time to check your stores and replenish any supplies that you don't make yourself.

It is also a good time to check on non-food supplies, such as back up gasoline, a nice tall pile of firewood by the stove, and the contents of your first aid kit. Make sure you have batteries and candles on hand in case the power goes out and always know where your shovels are!

Finally, snuggle up and enjoy the storm! A good winter snowstorm is a great opportunity for some forced down time, a rare chance for farmers to catch up on their reading and spend time by the fire. Make sure you enjoy the respite and are ready for some serious snow-shoveling the next day!


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