University of Maryland Extension

Preparing for Winter on the Farm

Sara BhaduriHauck

Winter is coming! Are you ready? While we can’t predict whether it will be a mild winter or a harsh one, now is the time to prepare for the possibility of severe winter storms. Here are a few tips to help keep things running smoothly in the event that Mother Nature presents us with challenges.

Know the terminology. What’s the difference between a watch and a warning? It’s simple, but lots of folks don’t know. A watch means that a storm is possible in the next 12 to 36 hours. A warning means a storm is expected in the next 12 to 24 hours. Keep abreast of the latest weather reports so you can be ready for what’s coming.

Winterize buildings. Are your farm buildings in good enough repair to withstand wind, snow, and freezing temperatures? Make any needed repairs now, especially if you need to do roof work (which is much more dangerous in even moderately icy conditions). Add insulation where appropriate to keep water lines from freezing. Ensure that livestock shelters will remain dry and    protected from wind.

Be prepared for power outages – even outages that may last several days. If you live down a long lane with above ground power lines, a fallen tree on your personal line may be the last to be repaired after a storm. Prepare your generator and be sure to have sufficient fuel on hand. Consider how you will manage livestock if you rely on electric fencing to contain them. Have enough water and be prepared with an alternative strategy for heating your home, such as with a kerosene heater. (See page 6 for more on safely heating with kerosene.)

Have an emergency plan for animal feed and water. What will you do if your well freezes? What if heavy snow or ice disrupt your normal feed delivery? Think ahead and have a backup plan in place. Also keep in mind that livestock require more hay in colder weather and the process of eating and digesting helps keep them warm, so be sure to have a sufficient supply of hay.

Service snow removal equipment. How will you manage if a blizzard leaves us with four feet of snow? You’ll need to be able to get to livestock to provide care, and livestock will need access to their feed and water if it’s not inside their shelter. Make sure your snow removal equipment is in good working order, hooked up, and easy to access from your house when severe winter weather is predicted.

Take extra precautions when working outside. Farmers usually don’t have the luxury of taking snow days, but do your best to plan work schedules so you can avoid working outside on extremely cold days or when ice makes the work dangerous. When you are working outside, leave extra time to complete tasks that may be complicated by the weather. Don’t push yourself too hard – keeping warm puts extra stress on your body. Heart attacks during hard labor in cold weather are a major cause of death in winter.

Expect the unexpected! Being proactive, getting prepared, and developing a plan B can help prevent problems and accidents and reduce stress should severe winter weather occur.


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