Getting the Farm Ready for Winter
Winter is coming….
It’s Kentucky. This means that today it’s summer and tomorrow it will be winter. Of course, next weekend it will be summer again and then winter and then we will all be sick. But at some point, the yo-yo weather will make up it’s mind, turn arctic and stick around until March. If you wait until the snow is on the ground to get the farm ready for winter you will be sorry.
It’s like dealing with the outdoor Christmas lights. It’s all fun and games on that warm, sunny November day when they go up. Taking them down the first week in January is a miserable, horrid, frozen chore. The weather makes all the difference.
After a few years on the farm (8 to be exact) of “trial by fire” we have caught on. We are really quick learners around here. Come the first or second week in November,we are scurrying and rushing around buttoning up everything for winter. It is not fun when you forget to shut the water off in the barn sink. Not fun at all. Geyser. Water. Wetness. Busted pipes. Disasters.
Here’s a few things we have been doing over the past week to get everything prepared for the cold weather that is coming.
#1- Get the stock tanks ready (extension cords & de-icers)
The goal is water. The cows need water. Not ice. In order to keep the cow’s water from freezing into a skating rink, we put de-icers into their tanks. The de-icers run off electricity. The electricity is located in our milk barn. Soooooooooo, we have to run approximately 1 mile of extension cords to get the deicers into the stock tanks. Okay, it’s not 1 mile.
We use zip-strips to hold the cords off the ground, out of the fields (so the cows won’t mess with them) and safe.
Tank de-icers are magnificent. If you have ever broken ice you know the numbing torture that accompanies breaking ice. Sledgehammers, shovels, frostbite. It is a cold, cold, cold, horrible job.
De-icers mean you won’t have to break ice.
#2-Move all the cows to one field
We have 8 cows on our farm.
- 2 are our marvelous, jersey, milk cows (Rosie & Trinka).
- 2 are their calves (Boots & Minnie).
- The other 4 are beef calves we are raising (Deadpool, Red, Grey and Black Cow). Yes, the kids name the cows.
We have 3 pastures on our property right now. Until this week the cows were all spread out among the pastures. Our fields are not huge so we have to rotate and limit the pressure on each field. Since winter will be here in no time, we relocated all the cows to the same real estate.
Now we have 8 cows in one pasture.
- Wherever you keep cows over the winter will be destroyed (or close to it). Winter is a messy, sloppy, muddy, wet, sloshy, cold mess in Kentucky. It’s not that the cows are bad, it’s just that they are huge. When the ground is soft, their weight and movement turns the grassiest pasture into a pit of mud.
- The more fields you have full of cows in winter, the more fields that will need to be harrowed, reseeded and repaired in spring. For more on repairing pastures go here.
- During winter in Kentucky, there is very little fresh grass for the cows to eat. They are eating hay for the most part so I don’t need to worry about there being enough grass for everyone. Instead of grazing, our cows are standing around the hay bale munching most of the day.
- It is much easier to take care of 8 cows over the winter if they are all in one place. I only have to fill water in one field. I only have to take hay to one field. I only have to de-ice the water in one field. I only have to refill the minerals in one field. Putting all eight cows in one spot streamlines the chores and duties.
- Cows are herd animals. It may sound silly, but they love being together. They have warmth, they have companionship, they have friends.
#3- Rabbit World
There are several chores to get the rabbits ready for the cold months. We have outdoor rabbits. They have lived outdoors their entire lives. They have shelter, wind break and protection from the weather.
The first thing we did to prepare for winter was beef up the new hutch.
We added some sides and a front to keep out any icky elements. We can still easily get to the rabbits to manage their food, water and love on them. The wood frame blocks the weather but not our access to them.
When things get really frosty we will give them some fresh hay to bed in and munch on. Cleaning hay out of rabbit cages is not fun, so I only use hay when it gets really nasty. Until then, they get to use those warm coats God gave them.
Rabbit duty number 2 is to get more drinkers. However many we have now (in the habitat) we double. We have 3 drinkers in the rabbit cages. This means I will need a total of 6 drinkers (3 for the rabbit cages & 3 extras). We keep the extra 3 at the house. Every morning we fill the 3 (extra) drinkers with fresh water & take them up to the rabbits. We swap the fresh water for the blocks of ice in their cages. We take the frozen 3 down to the house to thaw. The next morning we fill those with fresh water & swap again. This gives the rabbits fresh (unfrozen) water every day.
Last on the rabbit list: Cull any extra rabbits, process and send to freezer camp. We don’t’ want to feed, water, clean up after and have the burden of carrying any unnecessary animals through winter. Any extra rabbits (and roosters) are culled and packaged before the snow shows up.
#4- Clean up the chicken coop
We always get the coop nice and squeaky clean before winter. How we clean the chicken coop here. We fill all the nesting boxes with fresh bedding. We cover the entire floor with fresh hay. When the chickens add their contribution to the coop it will all begin to compost and break down and make heat. This is what keeps our chickens cozy and warm all winter. More on using Deep Litter to keep chickens warm here. We keep the window open for ventilation (if your coop doesn’t have good air flow it can cause frostbite). More on chickens and frostbite here.
To encourage our chickens to “turn” the deep litter for us we toss scoops of feed onto the hay.
We do not have any electricity or lighting in our coop. I am too scared of barn fires. I know many people do use lights in their coops but I don’t.
#5- Set up heaters in the milk barn
First Heater: Radiator under sink (to prevent pipes from freezing)
We’ve briefly covered that sink explosions aren’t fun. If you have a sink that you want to keep running all winter long, you must be sure the pipes won’t freeze…. or burst. The only outdoor sink we keep operational all winter is the one in the milk barn. For a tour of our milk barn go here.
I milk cows no matter what the outdoors are like, and water is not optional. I have to wash the udders. I have to wash the pump. I have to wash the can. I have to wash the tubes. I have to wash the claw. I can’t imagine milking without running water. I’m sure it can be done, but I am glad I’m not doing it. To see how I milk go here.
In order to keep the pipes from freezing, I keep a tiny, little radiator under the sink in the milk barn. I throw a sheet over the sink (to hold in the heat). It’s been working for years. I even have a hot water heater down there next to the radiator so I even have hot water in winter. It makes me so happy.
Second Heater: Big space heater in milk barn
Yes, I am a spoiled princess. If you’re gonna milk a cow in winter, you might as well be comfortable, right?
I have a big ‘ol heater mounted in the rafters of my milk barn. It can turn a freezer into the tropics in 15 minutes. Yes, the cows love it.
My rockin’ heater even has a timer so I can set it to come on 15 minutes before I go up to milk. It’s kinda like a timer you use for your Christmas lights. You set it to come on every day at a certain time and it comes on whether you are home or not.
My big heater comes on every morning at the time I tell it to…. while I am in bed…. and it heats my milk barn for me. When I get to the barn it is nice and warmed up. It’s like having someone warm up your car for you before you leave the house. The best.
#7- Cut back bushes, roses, perennials and other landscaping
Technically, this could wait til spring, but I like the bushes to be trimmed up. Every time I pull down the driveway all I can think is, those bushes need haircuts. Now that they are trimmed, I pull down the driveway and grin.
#8- Empty all the pots adorning my back and front porches.
I really like flowers.
I have enormous, ceramic pots that I fill with the prettiest flowers you’ve ever seen. The pots are haphazardly arranged on my front and back porches. My world is surrounded by cascading, overflowing vines, plants and flowers. They complete me. Every spring I do a happy dance and fill them. Every fall I have to pull them all out and cry.
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah! This is the chore I do last. I love my flowers and it breaks my heart each and every year when I must rip them from their pots and throw them into the compost. Once it’s done I do get that giddy, happy feeling of a clean end to a season. In spring, when it is time refill them with glorious vines, flowers and plants I will be so happy that they are empty and ready to be filled.
For now, I’m going to pout. I will miss my flowers.
#9- Shut off water
Any water sources that are not “frost free” or set up to endure the frozen temperatures of winter have to be shut off. At our house, this means the sink in the big red barn. It’s not complicated. It’s not hard. It only take a few minutes, and you’ll be sorry if you forget to do it.
#10- Clean out & clean up the garden
This does not make me nearly as sad as ripping out my flowers. By this time I am soooooooo over gardening I really don’t care if I ever see a tomato for the rest of my life. Good riddance.
It is a project to rip out all the plants, debris and weeds before winter. I think it’s worth it. I like having fresh, clean beds that are ready for planting. This will make my spring a lot more fun and less work.
If you do decide you hate your garden right now & want to ignore it until spring, it’s OK. Weeds, plants, volunteers – they all have roots. Roots hold soil in place. Even though your garden may look like a mess of weeds going into winter, it’s not the end of the world. Your soil will remain intact and your ground is covered, even if it is by weeds – and that is good.
I grabbed all the kids & assigned everyone a couple of beds. This is the fastest way to get the garden done. We each take a few beds & we’re done in 20 minutes. All we do is pull everything out and toss it into the woods (far, far, far away from the garden). If you had any diseases or fungus-es that you’d like to go away – you need to pull things out and send them to another county. In our case we just load a wagon and dump it on the other side of the property.
Having an empty garden is a joyous occasion right now. I’m done & happy it is a desert wasteland. This will all change by January when I begin to build an indoor greenhouse & sprout seeds. To see how I build my own indoor, greenhouse go here.
For now, the garden must go. We rip out the plants. Then, we torch the beds (more on torching here). Last,we add a layer of mulch (more on compost & mulch). Since we currently have 40 chickens, 9 rabbits and 8 cows the process of “top dressing” our garden beds never ends. There’s always more compost to be added to the garden.
I am D-O-N-E!
This, people, is a great feeling. Our farm is buttoned up and ready for winter.
I am free to sit in front of my fireplace and read. Or play in my kitchen and bake. Or build a snowman with my kids. Whatever I do, it will not be hours of farm chores – we are set.
Ready. Set. Go. Bring on the white stuff!
I know winter chores are different on every farm.
What do you do to get your place ready for winter?