Winter on a Midwestern farm can be unpredictable. Just a week ago we starting hearing rumblings of a snowstorm of record-breaking proportions. Even with my skepticism about the size and scope of the storm, the meteorologist did give us ample time to consider our range of options. Finally, the Sunday and Monday before the storm hit on Tuesday, we started preparing.
Around the House
When we have a winter storm that may include freezing rain, power outages are a big possibility. Freezing rain can cause trees to become very weighed down with ice and then large limbs can fall over roads and power lines.Having a generator is useful in this situation, and should be maintained and fuel must be kept on hand to run the machine. We do not have a generator, but have a wood stove and can remain comfortable for at least a few days without electricity. My biggest concern is that food kept in the freezer may spoil (2-3 days without electricity shouldn’t be a problem). When the power does go off, heavy blankets draped over the top and sides of the freezer will help further insulate it. The checklist includes bringing in as much firewood as possible, and/or covering outdoor firewood with tarps. I also fill clean containers with several gallons of water to use for consumption; and fill bathtubs with water for flushing toilets, cleaning, and pet drinking water. All chargeable electronics should be charged, batteries bought for other electronics and flashlights, and oil or gas lamps and candles gathered. It is good to make sure to have easy-to-prepare food on hand, and food that you know can be cooked on the woodstove or gas range if you have that capability.Cooking up a large pot of chili or chicken noodle soup prior to the storm and freezing in family size portions helps. Even if the power does not go out, you may be held hostage in your home for a few days, so extra groceries may be a good idea. Make sure the chain saw is ready, laundry is done and everyone has bathed.
I also like to take a walk around the yard and barn areas to make sure that stray buckets, bikes, toys, lawn ornaments are moved so they will neither blow away nor become a hidden obstacle under the snow. Drifts can make it necessary to drive in non-driveway areas, and it is a comfort knowing that there aren’t any surprises under the snow. Also make sure that shovels are brought inside where they can be easily made available. Fill up vehicle gas tanks, check tires, park near the road and put plenty of weight in truck beds.
Now to the Barnyard
If you have farm animals there are several considerations. Our small beef herd does not have access to a shelter. Doing the best with what we have, they were moved to a pasture with a large timbered area. On the south end of the timber we placed several large round hay bales. This area was slightly downhill and the best windbreak available. Water availability and forage are the two most important needs in treacherous weather conditions. Know where your axe is located for chopping the ice on the pond or (if electricity is available) plug in a de-icer and place in the tank if watering that way. Fortunately, before this blizzard the weather was warm enough that the pond wasn’t already frozen. If it were, I would have moved the cows to a pasture without a pond and watered them by tank. When an already frozen pond gets covered with snow the cattle may not be able to see that they are on a pond and fall into the frigid waters. Many cows have been lost this way. At this point, closely observe your herd because any medical attention needs to be addressed now, for it may be several days before you can check on them again.
Smaller farm animals need extra attention, too. My son’s goat herd is near the house. We make sure that there are buckets available for watering and that there is good hay in a dry place to put in their shed, should they be stuck there for several days. Chickens can be kept in their coop for several days as long as there is good ventilation and it will be possible to provide them with water and feed everyday. Dogs and cats are good at seeking and finding warm secure nests in barns and outbuildings as long as they also have access to water daily. If you have dog houses, they should have a good layer of clean, dry bedding or hay inside.
Remember What is Important
When the storm hits, staying safe and being cautious and careful is important. A farmer friend of mine reminded me of this perspective. Even though you love and take care of your cattle and other farm animals, they are assets in your farming business and can be replaced. You and your family’s safety and needs are most important. This should be remembered when working around icy ponds, huge snowdrifts and negative degree weather.
While the forecast did show a possibility of us getting slammed with an inch of freezing rain, 2 or more inches of sleet and up to 20 inches of snow, we ended up with a little ice, 1 inch of sleet and about 8 to 10 inches of snow. Being prepared for the worst, and hoping for the best, is always a good idea. Good luck to you and yours during this icy season. Please comment below if you have other ideas on getting prepared for bad weather, or share how you handle outdoor animal requirements.