Preparing for Winter

Fall is my favorite time of the year. I love the cool nights and the bright colors as the days grow shorter. I like feeling the heat from the wood stove as it radiates throughout the cabin. I like listening for the tea-kettle’s whistle as it heats up on the stove’s surface and I enjoy cooking breakfast utilizing a renewable resource.

A little artwork by Jack Frost.

Fall is our final chance to prepare for the long winter months. In the next couple of months we will hunt and preserve most of our meat for the coming year, fill the woodshed, and prepare the garden and equipment for their winter rest (and spring revival!).

My wife and I enjoy hunting and always look forward to hunting season. Our big game bow hunting season begins in early September and ends in mid-October. While I enjoy bow hunting I’m not wildly successful at it so I usually have tags remaining for the gun season that starts in late October and ends the Sunday after Thanksgiving Day.

I enjoy shooting about anything that throws a projectile so during the summer I’ve spent time shooting my bow, crossbow, traditional and inline muzzle-loaders, and my centerfire and rimfire rifles. That way there’s no rush to ensure that my firearms are sighted in because I haven’t shot them since the last hunting season. They’ve been in use all year.

My wife also hunts and is an excellent shot. She likes to get her tags filled early before it gets too cold.

Our seasons are liberal and residents can still buy over-the-counter tags (no drawings) for one deer, one elk, and one bear. With my wife and both hunting we get most of our year’s meat supply during the fall season. We can also enter drawings for limited tags on other big game animals. The upland game bird season runs about the same times as the bow and gun seasons for large game so I usually get grouse while hunting during the bow season. (I do pretty well hitting grouse with an arrow!) We have wild turkeys near the cabin so I usually get one in those years I purchase a tag for them.

We can all of our meat (except birds, which we eat right away) so we spend time getting more canning jars out of storage and ready for use. Our canners are never really in storage because they’re in use all year but we have thousands of jars that are in constant rotation from being emptied to being re-used. It takes quite a few jars to can a deer, elk or bear.

I use a hand-powered grinder for grinding our meat. If it’s not too cold I use it outside. Otherwise I’ll grind the meat indoors.

I do all of the butchering so this time of year is when we get the meat grinder out of storage and I hone the blades of my favorite knives to a shaving sharp edge. In the meantime my wife, who does all of the canning, is readying jars and canners (we have four pressure canners).

We have four pressure canners. When we have a lot to can we’ll retrieve our propane “outfitter stove” from storage. It holds two more canners.

If the wood shed isn’t full by fall I’ll be cutting, splitting and stacking firewood. I try to get my wood early most years. If a person gets their permit from the Forest Service and cruises the back roads in spring you can often get wood that’s fallen across or near the road during the winter. Unfortunately it’s usually green and will need time to season before use. I throw green wood in a separate pile then load it in to the back of the wood shed so it won’t get used until late winter or early spring. That way it has plenty of time to season (dry).

If you don’t get your wood until later in the summer you’ll have to go for the stuff that’s farther from the road. It’s normally good, seasoned wood but it’s more work to get it to the truck.

In a bad fire year it makes sense to wait until fall to do your wood cutting. Mainly because if a fire rolls through the firefighters will usually try to save your home but they’ll let your wood shed go up in smoke. If that happens all of your previous work has been wasted.

This year all of our cutting will be on our own property and since it’s been a bad year for fires I still have a few cords to cut, split and stack.

A full truck load of wood brings its own reward on those long winter nights.

As I finish up cutting firewood I’ll put my chainsaws away for winter. This includes draining the fuel and running the carburetor dry, draining the chain oil from the reservoir and relaxing the chain on the bar. I used to remove the chains and store them in a bucket of oil but there are so many times that I have to get them out during the winter to clear downed trees from the road that I just loosen the chain tension instead. That way it’s a lot easier and less messy to get them going again when I need them.

Our gardening season is officially over by mid-September. At this time we till up everything and let the remains compost over the winter. Soon the leaves will fall from the aspen in the yard and those will be raked up, scattered in the garden and tilled under. At least that’s what happens if the weather cooperates. Many years we just rake up and pile the leaves because the ground is frozen in the garden.

Fall is also when I put to bed all of the gasoline-powered tools we have. String trimmers and the power mower will be drained of fuel and stored in the shed. The push mowers will also be stored inside until next spring.

It’s also the time of year to inspect the snow rake (for pulling snow off the roof of buildings) and make sure all of the handle extensions are easy to get to. Likewise the chimney brush and handles will also be made readily available. If we are here all winter I normally clean the chimney about three times. We don’t get a lot of creosote build up because I run a hot fire first thing every morning but it’s better to be safe than sorry. Especially when the issue is a chimney fire!

Fall is definitely one of our busier times of year but it’s also one of the most enjoyable. The days are getting shorter so we actually have time to sit and maybe watch a movie on the television, read or play our musical instruments. Our most recent acquisitions are Indian Flutes. We both enjoy the soothing sound they make. They just seem to be the perfect ending to a busy fall day.

If you’ve enjoyed what you’ve read so far you might want to check into my book, Creating the Low Budget Homestead(available in the GRIT Bookstore). It’s filled with homesteading advice you won’t find anywhere else. Most homesteading books tell you how to raise livestock, grow a garden and preserve your harvest. My book focuses on how to pursue your homesteading dream on a budget that would make Ebeneezer Scrooge envious.

You may also view my blog, Off-Grid, Self-Sufficient Montana Homestead Life.

Preparing the Farm for Winter

Its always pretty busy on a farm. In the fall there is the rush to prepare for winter. For us it means butchering the last of the broiler chickens, fattening up the pastured pigs, building or repairing any animal shelters, finishing up canning, and trying to get the most out of what remains of the pasture.

This week we were given a round roll hay feeder. Nothing fancy but it still has a few years left in it. We had a roll or two of hay that were laying on their sides got rained on so we decided to feed it to the cows, goats, and sheep before it ruined. This will allow our field to grow up a bit before we have a killing frost so the cows will be able to have more green stuff further into the winter.

Our very pregnant Dexter cow, Bessie was very happy to have all the hay she could eat. She stuck her chin out a bit and had the most content look on her face that we had to smile. Hopefully she will give us a Dexter heifer to add to the herd the first week of January. We are really excited because it will be the first Dexter calf born on the farm. Her daughter is also expecting a calf in March.

We wanted to dehorn our Dexter bull by putting bands on his horns (the same bands that one uses to bloodlessly castrate) but we had waited too long and the bands just popped off so we have decided to just put brass horn knobs on him and just let him keep his horns. He is a big Mamma’s boy anyway. Next breeding season we will let him breed one of the cows. Neither calf that will be born this year is his. He will be a year old this January.

Jeb the Great Pyrenees has been enjoying the cooler weather.


Our chicken plucker is broken, so we have been very slow about butchering off the broiler chickens. We have about 20 left to do and hope to get that done next week. These birds are going to be roasting birds because they have had a couple extra weeks to grow off. We usually butcher them at 8 weeks old and these are 10 weeks old. Our broilers are raised in a chicken tractor we move daily and fed 20% protein food that is free of any antibiotics or hormones. It has been years since we bought chicken from the grocery store.

I think chickens are a lot more hassle to raise for meat than pigs or cattle because they are more labor intensive to process because of the scalding and plucking. It is worth it though even though the profit you get is lower because of the added labor when compared to raising a pig or cow. Part of the reason it can take us so long is that we have been processing our birds into cuts of thighs, legs, wings, breasts, etc. instead of just vacuum sealing and freezing them whole. I canned 6 chickens last time we butchered. I have a previous blog post up about that experience for those interested. We are highly considering turning an old but clean concrete mixer into a tub style chicken plucker to help us get the job done a bit quicker.

If the weather ever gets cold enough, it will be hog killin’ time on the farm. I think I am going to have to hang a pig or two on my porch this year since I don’t have a smokehouse yet. We will see how it goes. This year I think Matt and I will be butchering pigs by ourselves for the most part. We learned a lot last year about the process and have a better set up for gutting and hanging. We are also butchering some of them before they reach 350 and 400 lbs. If we have one or two get that big this year, we might have to enlist some help. Our pigs have been growing at a remarkable rate here lately. We have been feeding them a diet of corn, milk, sweet feed, and apples.

About 6 months ago there was a tree crew chipping branches near the road we live on. We asked them to dump the wood chips at our place so we got a whole box truck full of mulch. If you ever see a tree crew working near your home you can oftentimes give them your address and phone number and they will dump you a load. You have to let it compost down for awhile before spreading it on anything that is not acid loving. We usually get a load dumped each year. If we had to buy that much mulch and have it delivered it would be about $400 in our area. This week we started mulching our garden. We are going to spread all the mulch and a layer of chicken manure and straw so that the garden will be in good shape for spring planting.

We have been free ranging our geese and ducks but will be putting them up in movable bottomless pens for the winter. Hawks and other critters become more desperate for food the further we get into the winter, so we put them up. The “chicken tractors” they are in are a good compromise between protection and free ranging. I have got to figure out how to deal with my geese come spring. They can be rough on a garden.

This year we have the added responsibilities of finishing up our house. We should have the insulation installed soon. We are doing all the wall insulation ourselves, but we are having a firm come and blow foam insulation into our roof. The house is small and will be very energy efficient with foam in the ceiling.

Yep, there is always a lot to do to prepare for winter on the farm. After the house is done we will be able to concentrate more on the vegetable farming. The spring will also bring other projects such as building a pole shed for the cows to loaf under and so we can have a place to keep the hay dry. This year we have had to cover our rolls with plastic, and it keeps blowing off. A few rolls were placed on their sides so they got wetter than I would have liked. We will have to feed those first. Next year will be a lot easier as far as dealing with hay goes. I wish we could find square bales at a reasonable cost. The rolls of hay are hard to deal with without a tractor but much, much, cheaper than buying bales. I will end with some pictures of the farm from this fall and last winter.







Published on Nov 15, 2010

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