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If you are a farmer here in North America, Winter is something you have to prepare for and deal with as part of your yearly operations.

Freezing weather conditions affects farming in several ways. The more significant effects are the provision of feed and water to livestock; the delivery of feed to farms and the transport of products from farms; the freezing of water pipes to sheds and outdoor water troughs; freezing of coolant and diesel in tractors; damage to forage crops being grazed in-situ or stored in farmyards. There are also the personal risks of working and driving over icy surfaces.

The most important thing you have to look after though? It’s YOU.

Look After Your Own Safety FIRST

Farming is always a dangerous occupation, and it is even more so when severe weather arrives.

The last few winters have brought some very severe conditions, with heavy snowfalls and extensive flooding in some areas.

Make sure to follow these simple steps before you go out to work on your acreage:

  • Before going out on your land always tell someone where you are going, and how long you will be gone for
  • Wear suitable layers of clothing
  • Carry a charged mobile phone and a flashlight

Livestock Handling Tips

Livestock will survive for a period of time without food but animals will show signs of dehydration if left longer than 24 hours without water. With cattle in sheds, the provision of feed is generally not a problem as forage and meal is usually stored in the farmyard or nearby. The most vulnerable groups of animals to water shortage are animals on high concentrate diets and animals fed hay, straw or other very dry feeds.

  • Finishing animals on high levels of dry feed, such as high concentrate diets have a big demand for water. These animals should always have free access to water. An animal consuming 10kg dry matter of dry feed will need 60 litres (13 gallons) of water daily. Concentrate feeding levels should be reduced and animals put on wet silage fed to appetite, where an adequate water supply cannot be provided. These animals need to be introduced to meals gradually again once water supply is restored.
  • Reducing mineral intake may reduce the demand for water, particularly in sheep.
  • If access of livestock to water has been restricted and then suddenly made available, over-drinking or water toxicity can cause health problems and even fatalities in extreme cases. Allow gradual access to water initially, when animals are extremely thirsty.

Transport

Large trucks have poor traction on icy, untreated roads and can get stuck on even modest inclines. Before ordering feed, consider if the truck can make it into your yard. If there is a risk of getting stuck it may be better to decide on an alternative such as getting a temporary supply by tractor and trailer or four-wheel drive vehicle. Roadways and yards may need gritting to get milk collection vehicles in and out of the farmyard. Have a supply of gritting material available.

Frozen Water Pipes

  • Where there is an on-farm supply from a deep well, the deep submersible pump should not freeze but pipes and fittings from the pump to the pressure vessel (tank) and from there to the sheds need to be kept free of ice.
  • Have a thermostatically controlled fan heater in the pump-house.
  • Water pipes to the shed should be underground and any exposed pipes should be insulated.
  • In very low temperatures, pipes have frozen at the entrance to the shed and inside the shed in the supply to the troughs. In such situations, even when thawed out they are likely to freeze again. The supply pipe to the troughs could be extended on further out of the house to a tap. This tap can be left to run at a low rate to keep water flowing where there is an on-farm supply source. This option cannot be used if the water is supplied by the Local Authority or Group Scheme.
  • It may be necessary to bring in an alternative supply to fill water troughs or other containers in the feed passage. It may be possible to tap into the underground supply outside the shed and attach a hose to fill these water containers. Make sure the connection to the underground supply is well-insulated after use and drain all the water from the connecting hose after filling the containers in the shed.

Out-Wintered Stock

Cattle can cope with low temperatures provided they have plenty of feed. Even young calves are not seriously affected by low temperatures if they have shelter from chilling wind and driving snow/rain. Water supply is a huge problem with outdoor stock. Surface ice needs to be broken twice per day.

Sheep are the largest group of out-wintered stock.

  • Ewes in early and late pregnancy have higher energy requirements than those in mid-pregnancy.
  • Ewes in early and late pregnancy should get a supply of forage (hay or silage) and about 0.5 kg meal / day where there is a blanket of snow and no grass available.
  • Ewes in mid-pregnancy will get adequate energy from hay or silage, fed to appetite.
  • Sheep need access to water where dry feeds (hay/meals) are fed. Introduce meal gradually to avoid acidosis.
  • Forage should be fed in a round feeder or behind a feed barrier to avoid wastage. Meal should be fed in troughs or on a packed line of snow – this can be made by tractor or quad driving on the snow and forming packed lines. Feed the concentrate, preferably as nuts on the packed lines of snow.

Slurry Scrapers

  • Clear snow from outdoor scrapers at entrance to the tank.
  • Keep the ratchet mechanism and tracks free of frozen slurry.

Tractors

  • Keep tractors in the shed when not in use.
  • Have adequate anti-freeze in the cooling system. It can become diluted if being topped up during the year.
  • Traces of water in fuel lines can freeze and block flow.
  • Have batteries fully charged to cope with the extra demands of starting in freezing conditions.

Sprayers

  • Make sure pumps are fully drained.
  • Remove pressure gauges from sprayers and store away from frost.
  • Clean out and drain the sprayer thoroughly including all pipes filters and nozzles.
  • If the sprayer cannot be stored in a frost-free shed, put about 10 litres of anti-freeze mixture (33%) into the tank, pump it through all valves and pipe work by opening the appropriate valves.
  • Drain all pipes and hoses.

Forage Crops

  • Heavily frosted brassica crops (kale, rape, etc.,) if consumed at a high rate will cause scouring, digestive upsets and even death in severe situations.
  • Brassica crops are normally grazed in-situ and in most cases could be expected to have thawed by midday when the strip wire can be moved and animals fed.
  • Do not feed brassica crops if frozen but bring in silage or hay in round feeders.
  • If the feed allowance from brassicas is limited, bring in extra fodder to match the reduced intake of brassicas.
  • Avoid feeding frosted beet, as it contains oxalic acid, which can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities.
  • Fodder beet that is stored outside can be damaged by severe frost. Cover outdoor clamps of beet with straw and an old silage cover to prevent freezing and keep off fresh snowfalls.

Safety

  • There is increased risk of injury during severe weather conditions.
  • Most injuries result from slips and falls causing fractures and head injuries.
  • Clear a number of tracks around the farmyard, treat with de-icing salt and keep to these safe walkways.
  • Grit sloped yards and roadways to facilitate traffic.
  • Herd out-wintered livestock during daylight hours and be back before nightfall.
  • Keep away from hazardous areas and rough terrain.
  • Bring a mobile phone when going out herding or on other journeys.
  • If rigging up additional lamps and heaters use the correct wiring and ensure these are protected by a 30 milliamp RCD (Residual Current Device) on the switch or fuse board to prevent electric shocks.