Prepare the farm for winter

Preparing your farm for winter

Getting your machinery, outbuildings, and livestock ready for the onset of the cold is easier when you’re not battling the elements. Here are some things to consider before the snow flies.

Stock up. Be sure you’ve laid in an adequate supply of salt, feed, sand, and other essentials before the first hard frost. Store it all where you can get to it quickly and where it can’t be spoiled by water or rodents.

Winterize your house, barn, and other outbuildings

  • Review the roofs. This is a good thing to do on a rainy day, when leaks will often reveal themselves. Make sure your gutters are free of debris and replace any deteriorating shingles. Ideally, your roofs will have an ice and water barrier on the eaves under the shingles. This will keep ice dams — ridges of ice that form on the edge of a roof — from preventing melting snow from draining.
  • Keep them clean. You don’t like living in squalor, and neither do your animals.
    • Thoroughly clean surfaces in the barn and stock sheds, including floors, walls, doors, and light fixtures. Don’t power wash if the temperature is freezing or below, as this could create icy spots.
    • Don’t neglect the outside areas of your outbuildings. Getting rid of debris like fallen branches, rocks, or piles of junk will help keep the season safer for you and your stock.
    • Read pesticide labels for storage recommendations. Store dry pesticides above liquid pesticides and get rid of any expired or unused chemicals responsibly. Drain and clean pesticide equipment.
  • Keep the water flowing. Be sure your barn’s water supply is sufficient for both barn use and fire suppression.
    • Store flammables securely in approved and properly labeled containers, with fire extinguishers close at hand.
    • Inspect electrical equipment and wiring. Remove cobwebs from light bulbs and put wire cages around bulbs where possible. This can prevent pieces of straw or hay from smoldering and starting a fire.
    • Install smoke detectors. They’re a good idea for your house, and an excellent idea for outbuildings as well.
    • Install carbon monoxide (CO) detectors. Carbon monoxide may not cause fires, but it can be fatal for you and your livestock. Put CO detectors wherever you’re using nonelectric heaters.
  • Discourage unwanted visitors. Critters are on the lookout for warm spots where they can overwinter. Pest-proofing your feed containers and silage storage systems will help keep them from nesting long-term.
  • Set up shelter. Remove old hay to prevent mold that can compromise air quality. Proper building ventilation is important, too. Stagnant air can lead to conditions that promote mold and otherwise compromise livestock health. For stock turned out into the open, you should provide windbreaks and open shelters lined with plastic sheeting to keep the wind at bay.
  • Prepare for babies. Make sure you’ve taken particular pains to protect expectant mothers. Consider putting heat lamps, carefully monitored, in birthing areas, and keeping rags and blankets on hand for when the time comes.
  • Spend quality time in your machine shed. Remember the five steps of FARMS:
    • Fill tanks. Condensation in your fuel and lubrication systems can cause expensive damage. Keep your fuel tanks topped up — particularly diesel engines, where gelling can be a problem — and put lighter weight transmission and hydraulic oils in your lines, as recommended in your machinery’s manuals.
    • Adequately lubricate. Grease can protect unpainted areas such as hydraulic cylinder rods. Follow the specs and instructions in equipment manuals.
    • Repair damage. Winter is the perfect time to tool up and tackle the million-and-one machine-repair jobs you had to put off when you were busy.
    • Maintain and clean. While you’ve got machinery torn down, take the opportunity to scrub out all the gunk that tends to accumulate. In addition to changing all fluids and oils (see “fill tanks” above), lower linkages fully to stop pressure buildup in hydraulic rams. Check tire pressure on anything that rolls, take the tension off belts, and if you’re not going to be running a piece of equipment until spring, remove its battery and put it somewhere dry.
    • Store equipment. If you don’t have space in your machine shed, blue tarps can be a fallback.

Winterize the fields and farmyard

  • Map out all water areas. Use ground markers — easily available in vivid colors — to mark the edges of ponds, streams, and lagoons on your acreage. A covering of snow, ice, and dead leaves can make it tough to see where the solid ground ends.
  • Salt and sand paths. Covering common paths with salt and sand will help prevent falls. Pay particular attention to steps into and out of buildings.
  • Keep stock hydrated. Keep the water from freezing in your tanks and troughs by using tank heaters or de-icers and putting tanks in areas shielded from the elements.

Sources: AgWeb, AgAmerica,,, NewHomeSource,

The information included here was obtained from sources believed to be reliable, however Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any training, materials, suggestions, or information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state, or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Grinnell Mutual Reinsurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice and should be confirmed with alternative sources.