Tucking your farm in for winter

If you’ve got a farm, it’s time to start thinking about winterizing it before things get ugly. Even if you’ve already seen that dreaded first snowflake, it’s not too late get everything squared away.

All your outbuildings need a once-over before winter’s icy grip takes hold, and any structure that houses livestock and horses should take top priority. You’ll also get a jump on spring planting if you give your farm equipment some TLC before tucking it in for its long winter nap.

From windows to roofs, here’s a top-to-bottom list of ideas to get the (snow)ball rolling.

From critters to cleanliness

There’s a lot to consider when preparing farm buildings for a long winter.

  • Keep it clean. Start with a general spruce up. Get rid of rusty or broken tools and remove any old hay or bedding that could get moldy and compromise air quality. Don’t neglect the outside areas of the barn, either. Getting rid of ground debris like fallen branches before the snow falls will help keep the season safer for you and your animals. Once you’ve done the basics, get down to the nitty gritty and thoroughly wash the floors, walls, windows, doors, and light fixtures.
  • Discourage unwanted visitors. Rodents and birds are looking for a warm place to call home in the winter months. A critter-proof feed container system will help keep interlopers from nesting long-term. Predator decoys or ultrasonic repellers can let Mr. Mouse know he’s not welcome.
  • Be aware of your windows. Clean all intact windows to allow light in for the animals housed within the barn. Proper ventilation is key — fresh air is important to livestock to help prevent respiratory illness. Caulking around windows and doors helps, and a thick sheet of plastic on the outside of windows will help eliminate icy drafts.
  • Stock up. Don’t wait to stock up on essentials — have items like sand, rock salt, clean bedding, and plenty of warm water for livestock on hand before a storm hits.
  • Review the roof. Frayed or crumbling shingles should be replaced and on particularly rainy days, it’s a good idea to give your buildings a once over for active leaks. And don’t forget to clean out the gutters — they fill up fast.
  • Keep things flowing. Make sure the water supply to your barn is in good working order and that the pressure is adequate for both barn use and in case of fire. Warm water, not cold, is ideal for livestock, so make sure the heated water supply is plentiful.

Know your barn burners

Rural outbuildings are particularly susceptible to accidental fires. Damaged and overtaxed electrical equipment are common sources of fire in barns and other farm buildings. Long distances between communities create an extra challenge for fighting them. When winterizing your structure, keep the following fire safety guidelines in mind.

  • Heaters and fuse boxes and wiring – oh my! All electrical equipment (especially wiring) should be tested and inspected before the long winter. Remove cobwebs from light bulbs and consider investing in wire bulb cages, which will help prevent errant straw or hay from smoldering and igniting on light source surfaces. And don’t forget to thoroughly inspect heaters — if a heater hasn’t been used in several months, a sudden full-blast burst of activity could result in failure.
  • Smoke alarms? Outbuildings aren’t always equipped with working fire detectors, so if yours doesn’t have one, get one!
  • Store your fire starters properly. Hay, straw, and other types of bedding shouldn’t be stored in the same building that livestock stay in. Accelerants like gasoline and paint thinner should always be stored in approved and properly labeled containers. An updated list of all chemicals stored on the farm should be maintained regularly, and an ABC (all class) dry-chemical fire extinguisher should be in all livestock buildings and workshops.

Do you know your FARMS list?

AgWeb suggests following the five steps of “FARMS” when you’re winding down the harvest season and ready to store your equipment.

  • Fill tanks. Condensation created during the spring thaw can end up in your fuel and oil tanks. Top the tanks off before putting the equipment away for the season.
  • Adequately lubricate. A good layer of grease can help protect unpainted areas (like hydraulic cylinder rods) from the elements. Follow the instructions in your operator manuals.
  • Repair damage. Fix all those little things you planned to fix “later.” Now is later. Repairs now will keep broken parts from degrading or rusting over the winter. (You’ll thank your winter self when it comes time to plant next spring!)
  • Maintain and clean. Remove dust and debris both inside and outside farm equipment. Change oil and fluids, and check tire air pressure regularly. Lower linkages fully to avoid pressure buildup in hydraulic rams. If possible, slacken the engine accessories’ belt tensioner. Remove the battery and store in a dry location.
  • Store equipment. Just like your critters, your farm equipment prefers a roof over its head. But if that isn’t practical, cover equipment and protect computerized parts with a cloth.

Trust in Tomorrow.®

Even the best cared-for buildings and implements can be damaged beyond repair if things go awry. Is your farm — and the things that make it go — adequately protected? Grinnell Mutual’s robust farm insurance programs can help make sure they are. Contact a Grinnell Mutual agent today.