Here in Colorado, we have vast swings in temperature this time of year. It’s October and we have already had snow. We have had freezing nights. But, yesterday, it was over eighty degrees. Winter barn prep takes on a whole new meaning when you are sweating your boots off one day and freezing the next! The good news is that this also means we can have days when it is still nice enough to get out there and get the barn prepped.
For me, the very first priority is animal comfort and health. Here at Sawdust, we mostly have horses since we live in an area where other types of livestock are not permitted (yes, we can’t wait until the day when we are in a new place and can increase our little herd!). But, I still prep the barn like a farm girl-old habits die hard. Here are some steps to making your barn a comfy, safe, and reliable haven for the winter months.
While it may be very tempting to shut up the barn tight for the coldest days of the year, this is actually not optimal for your animals. You need fresh air movement in the barn for the best health for your critters. This can be a simple matter of leaving half-doors open (provided you aren’t in the middle of a blizzard), slightly cracking windows open, or opening doors during the day to allow good air exchange. Think about air quality and how you plan to keep your air at it’s healthiest during the cold winter.
This is a great time of year to consider the bedding that you use in each area of the barn. Some bedding provides warmth, but in other areas it is more important to have good absorbency. I use shaving or sawdust pellets in our stalls with good success, because I am mainly worried about absorbency. Generally speaking, my horses are healthy and robust and do not struggle staying warm. Plan now for your herd and stock up on a bit of extra bedding, so you are not out in the winter chill wishing you didn’t have to run to the feed store.
If you hate breaking ice every day, start planning now for an easier and more successful winter by thinking about how you plan to water your herd. We use heated water buckets and tank heaters in our barn, which are pretty easy to set up. I set everything up in late fall, but plug them in only as the weather dictates until the winter officially arrives and makes their use an every day occurrence.
The types of animals on your homestead will greatly determine your needs here, so take the time to think this out and make a good solid plan. Remember that smaller water sources will freeze faster and sometimes solid! Think about your smaller critters with as much importance as you think about larger ones.
Don’t forget to make a plan for hose draining that is easy and fuss-free. We have a pulley hooked to the roof of our barn. We simply hook the end of the hose on to this pulley and pull the hose to the top, and it drains completely. Few things are more frustrating than arriving at the barn on a freezing morning, discovering everyone needs water, and finding your hose completely frozen. Deal with that now and make sure the hose is drained each and every time you use it.
Winterize Outdoor Spigots
Busted water lines and other water explosions are no fun. Neither are frozen spigots that are now completely useless. Now is the time to wrap those pipes in insulation, cover areas that are potential freeze points, and make sure the water keeps running. Do that now, before the cold blows in.
Check your Food Supply
The time to run out of feed for your animals is not when you are snowed in. Spend a little extra time, and money, to insure that your barn is well stocked with the feed your animals need for the winter to prevent a crisis down the road. This may mean loading up your hay loft or buying extra bags of grain. There are few sights that make my heart sing quite as much as my hay loft loaded up for the winter.
Be sure you are buying quality. Remember that grazing animals count on you to provide them a good diet to see them through the challenging winter months. If needed, stock up on mineral and vitamin supplements as well. Preparation here will mean a better winter for your livestock.
If you will need to change the feeding routine, due to decreased grazing and increased calorie needs, plan for that now as well. Begin working towards your optimal winter diet for each individual animal. This is a great time to do a quick health assessment to determine the needs of each member of your herd.
Think about Heat
I have been lucky that my herd is robust and healthy (and probably more than a little fat), but if you have young, small, or aged critters in your barn, you need to think about heating. Are you adding heating lamps to your area? Have you tested them for functionality and safety? Do this now so you know what needs to be replaced or what needs repair before winter strikes.
This is also when you can look at blanketing needs if you have herd members who require blanketing in the cold months. It’s time to get those blankets clean and prepped for action. Wash the blankets (go to a laundry mat if needed) and identify any needed repairs.
This is the ideal time of year to do a serious clean out of your barn spaces, so that your winter routine is simpler. Pull bedding out down to bare floor, sweep away dust, treat areas with lime that need it, identify low spots that need filling, and check all areas for safety. You’ll sleep better at night knowing your critters are nestled in to a barn that is both clean and safe.
Don’t Forget the Barn Cats
If you have barn cats, remember that all the above steps will need to be taken for them as well. Find a way to get them ice free water, be sure they can access shelter, and stock up a bit on food. You can also do a quick assessment of their health and identify those needs before winter strikes. Their integral role in the barn is important, so keeping them healthy and warm this winter is also a priority.
As the snow blows in, you will feel secure in knowing that you have all the needs of your barn covered. That means that even though the work is increased in some ways with plowing and animal care, you can have more downtime and far less emergencies in your barn.