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Winter Farming Tips: That's Snow Way to Farm

A photo of Brandon MitchellEleven inches.  That's how much snow I was under this last week.  It's definitely a change for southern Tennessee.  Just thinking about it makes me want to stay inside all day, but when there's work to be done, what can you do?  Well here are a couple of tips to make your frostbitten toes feel a little better:

1. Don't calve in winter.  About three days after the snow fell, I checked on the cows and found a cow with a new heifer calf.  I purchased the cow bred last year.  She calves just before Christmas so I expected another new arrival about now.  The rest of my cows calve between March and May, when it's much warmer.  Since she calved in winter, and there aren’t any growing grasses, I have to purchase alfalfa pellets to supplement her increased nutritional needs.

2.  Metal water troughs freeze faster than rubber or thick plastic.  Thin plastic troughs break too easily.  Your best case scenario is to keep a dark colored trough (or stock tank) out of the wind, but where the sun hits it.  The sunlight comes in from the southern part of the sky this time of year (as opposed to nearly directly overhead in summer), so blocking the wind on all but the south side of the tank is best.

3.  If possible, fill water bowls and stock tanks with just enough water for a 12-hour period (daylight).  It doesn't matter how much water your dogs or sheep or chickens have if the excess is covered in two inches of ice.  Whenever possible, ice skimmers or water warmers (or anything else that keeps the ice thawed) is best.

4. I have three words for you: Deep, dry, bedding.  If you keep bedding deep and out of the wind and rain, most pets and livestock do quite well.  If possible, try to avoid solitary animals.  Animals buddy up to keep warm.  Just don't go overboard and board up every little nook and cranny of your barn.  The moisture from the animal’s breath, urine, and feces needs to escape to keep everything dry.

5.  Use electricity wisely.  More than one barn has burned to the ground by a well-meaning farmer who plugged in a heat lamp.  Remember to keep cords away from animals, and use safety cages so if the light falls, a hot bulb won't be sitting on dry straw.  Personally, I only use heat in extreme cases.  Keeping livestock out of the wind and in the dry eliminates the need for extra heat most of the time.