No matter how sweet and pleasant autumn was, we all know that winter is just lurking right around the corner. It is therefore wise to prepare for the cold months ahead long before the frigid freezing temperatures and snow kick in and make things difficult. These long months can be brutal. Winter can be very costly to many farmers; storms, wind and freezing temperatures have a significant potential of causing severe damage.
To stay organized and safe during this seasonal transitions, it is critical that you follow a schedule of tasks from time to time. As winter creeps in closer, it gives the perfect time to prepare farm and your livestock for the months ahead. After all, no one wants to fix a leaky pipe on a beautiful, fall day or wait until that pipe bursts in the middle of the night during a windy snowstorm?
Warm and cold lands
Always plan your planting activities to reserve the more temperate areas for the coldest part of winter. You should not neglect this aspect. In most cases, the warmer slopes are the northern and north-west ones; these sides capture more heat units from the winter sun than the other sides. The upper slopes are safe havens; on still winter nights, the denser cold air sinks to the lower areas.
However, the situation can be the opposite in hilly areas where the cold air moves along the valleys and takes a shortcut over a hill if there is a bend in the valley. In this scenario, the top of the mountain may be colder than the lower land.
To avoid this problem, measure the temperature early in the morning at various points around the farm and watch the early morning mist in autumn.
Generally, plan to plant in the colder areas with a more cold-tolerant crop such as arrow roots, or if you are risk averse, then plant during a period when you know that temperatures are likely to be less extreme.
Irrigation and cold weather
The irrigation methods you employ can also make a big difference during winter. You may notice a massive change in temperature when passing a land that is being irrigated through sprinkling or where irrigation has just taken place. Here, usually, the temperature drops by several degrees. This should not be a surprise. Hothouses are usually cooled by attracting the air through a wet wall. It should be noted that the dryer the air, the more significant the drop in temperature as free water is highly evaporated, cooling the air even faster.
If a cold season arrives just after your irrigation, the temperature will subsequently drop much lower in the wetland than in another land where the ground leaves and surface are dry. The crop in the irrigated piece of land can then be severely damaged. This implies that you should therefore never sprinkler-irrigate if you know a cold front is approaching.
Ironically, if the crop is suffering from water stress at the time that intense cold hits, the damage will be even worse.
Irrigation through drip does not have this cooling problem since there is no ‘wet wall’ effect like that produced by sprinklers.
Varieties and fertilization
Choosing cold-tolerant types will make a huge difference. One of the known effects of nitrogen is to soften the plant, and cold easily damages soft plants.
I once came across a lettuce farmer friend who had recently fertilized his crop with nitrogen. He overdid it somewhat, as the crop was a very dark green apart from a small section he had missed.
This section was a medium-green color, and this was the only area that was not burnt by the cold when it came.
Crops need adequate nitrogen for a higher yield. However, you should not overdo it, making the crop soft and vulnerable to cold. It’s a balancing act.
Transport and access
Keep vital exit and access points open is hugely critical to make sure that staff, delivery and collection vehicles and emergency services can reach your farm, and to make sure you can enter any livestock.
Make sure you have enough of salt to keep icy roads and pathways clear and also keep a stockpile if you’re worried about ease of access – particularly on sloped yards.
Before you order things like fertilizer and feed, think about whether the transporting vehicles would be able to get into your yard. Access if there is any risk of them getting stuck it could be worth finding alternative solutions such as getting temporary supplies via tractor and trailer.
Try and your machinery some tender love and care now will help and make sure that you are ready to be on the go as soon as you need it – something which could be particularly important in the winter period.
Keep tractors in good condition and shed when they’re not in use, and make sure they have adequate anti-freeze in the cooling system, as it can get diluted if it’s topped-up during the year.
It’s also vital to make sure batteries are fully-charged to cope with being started in freezing conditions, and to check your fuel lines as traces of water can freeze and block the flow.
To protect sprayers from being damaged, make sure that pumps are fully drained, remove pressure gauges and clean out and drain the sprayer and any hoses and pipes thoroughly.
Check Your Pastures
First, get out to the fields and do a final mowing of any mature plants. This strengthens the roots, and it encourages the late-season grass growth. Additionally, you can tile up the soil to distribute nutrients that are found in manure and help to eliminate some parasites.
Walk Your Fence
This is the right time to check every fence line and post for breaks and stability. If you suspect the existence of anything that could get worse during winter, fix it now!If you were using an electric fence, search for any down wires and weeds that could ground the electric lines.
Protect Livestock from the Elements
Remember to check your barns and stables to ensure ventilation and any leaks. Strike a balance – you don’t want too much of either of them. If need be, give your livestock enough shelter to hide from the wind.
Keep the Water Flowing
How much of water does your animal needs during the winter? Losing supplies of water can be critical for any kind of farm business. That’s why it’s essential that you check every pipe. Measures such as pipes that are dripping so that trickles of water do not freeze and block the pipe. The preventive measure is more important and thus making sure pipes are well insulated is a priority. Incase of anything going wrong, being able to easily minimize their impact is critical. You may install frost-free faucets and make sure your tank heaters are installed or ready to go. The first serious deep freeze could hit any day, and the last thing you want to do is spending an hour or even more chipping away ice so that your livestock can get to drink water.
Make sure you know the layout or pipework of a piece of farm and keep a clear map of it so that you may know where to look for if there is a problem. It is also worth identifying where your stop valves are, and ideally installing a number of them so that they can isolate water supplies in the parts of the farm where you don’t use during the winter.
It is also critical to have an extra plan in place in case something goes wrong. Confirm the adequacy of water storage in case of a supply problem. Also get contact details of a plumber who will come through in case a pipe burst, or have a list of people you can call in case you need help with taking care of livestock.
Control the Mud
This depends on where you live, and mud is a severe concern for hoof care and other issues. Adding woodchips, gravel, or sand, to the feeding and watering areas can help decrease regions covered with mud. If the mad worsened, you may need to add more gravel.
Stock up on Feed
For animals to maintain their body temperature during the winter, livestock needs to take in a lot of feed. Prices for hay and grain are better now than in the winter. If you have a chance and resources like more room, stock up! You will find bags of feed and other nutrients to keep your livestock healthy this winter. Note that livestock can cope with low winter temperatures as long as they have plenty of feed and good access to water. Also, developing an emergency plan is critical so that you know where you can get emergency supplies from in case of anything.
Contact Your Vet
Go over your precautionary and emergency protocols with your veterinarian, and this should include vaccinations and deworming programs, and more importantly, their contact information. Preparation for an occurrence of anything can help minimize stress for you and your animals during the oncoming, colder season.
Luck is when preparation meets opportunity. Prepare hard, and fight easy!