If you have a farm, you might be wondering about the best ways to winterize your barn… Truth be told, there’s no single right way to winterize a barn, chicken coop, or any other kind of livestock housing facility.
The steps that you need to take to do so will depend largely on where you live, what your climate is like, and what sorts of animals are living in your barn.
Winterizing your barn is important, though. Where I live, winter temperatures regularly dip down to -20, – 30, and occasionally even -40 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s -40 Celsius as well!). With wind chill factored in, those temperatures are far from tropical.
Without taking the appropriate steps to keep our animals safe and warm, they would undoubtedly freeze to death. Animals are tough, equipped with many of the natural defenses they need to stay nice and toasty (such as wool, feathers, and higher body temperatures than we as humans possess).
That said, if your goal is to help your animals thrive during the winter and not merely survive, you’ve got to take appropriate steps throughout the year – and not just in a rushed, panicked fashion – to winterize your barn.
Here’s what you need to know.
1. Start Early – and Be Thorough
Don’t wait until the last minute to winterize your barn! Instead, start right away and begin by checking the area around your barn.
Give everything a scrutinizing eye. Are there any overhanging branches or debris that might fall once the wind and snow get to blowing? Cut those trees and limbs now.
2. Get Organized
Now is also a great time to get yourself organized. There’s nothing worse than traipsing out to the barn in the dead of winter only to find that you forgot to carry the pair of hoof trimmers or grain buckets you need with you.
Build a few shelves, saddle racks, cupboards, or hanging post sign the barn. Here, you’ll be able to store all kinds of gear, including feed, blankets, tack, medicine, tools, and more.
Don’t just build shelves and randomly throw things inside, either. Instead, use color-coding or labels so you know where everything is exactly when you need it.
3. Clean Up
Tidy up the barn. At the end of the busy season in the summer, it’s easy for things to get broken, outdated, rusty, or otherwise disheveled.
Take the time now to toss out any expired feed or medications and restock with fresh items as needed. Anything that can freeze needs to go inside the house, unless your barn is heated (I’m guessing it’s probably not!).
You’ll also want to clean out any old bedding and hay. These can harbor molds and allergens and, frankly, aren’t going to be any good for your animal, either.
Take the time to wash down the floors, and to remove any dried-on feces, urine, or stains. If you use stall mats or other coverings, clean them as well as you can.
4. Repair Any Fences
If you have a fence around your barn, it’s also a good time to get these repaired. Paint any gates or sand off any rust around the gate joints. Make sure all gates and fences function exactly as they should.
Regardless of whether they are electric, wooden, barbed wire, or some other material, there is nothing worse than dealing with a dysfunctional fence in the driving snow and wind!
While you’re at it, you should also clean and oil your barn doors. Make sure they are moving properly on their hinges or tracks.
Be extra vigilant when inspecting your fence. Remember, you’re not the only one that’s getting ready for winter. There are all kinds of predators, from coyotes to foxes, that might try to sneak inside your barn for a bite to eat during the coldest months of the year.
Make sure this isn’t possible and get rid of any holes that they might use to access your unsuspecting animals.
5. Check On the Windows
How do the windows look in your barn? If there are any that are broken, you may want to repair them or replace them altogether. If money is tight or you are pressed for time, feel free to use plywood or even cardboard (though this will need to be replaced often).
When you clean your barn, as mentioned above, scrub the windows down, too, as this will increase the amount of light that can enter the barn, warming it over the winter months.
6. Tend to Your Animals
Make sure your animals are up to date on any necessary vaccinations, and that all of their medical needs are tended to. While there are some tasks that will ultimately need to wait, it’s smart to get everything done in advance.
That way, you won’t have to worry about stressing your animals with unnecessary veterinary care in the dead of winter.
7. Check the Wiring
Make sure any fire hazards are reverted in the barn – so many barn fires happen during the winter months, and it’s both saddening and completely preventable.
Barn fires are often caused by hay, but they’re just as often caused by faulty electrical wiring. In fact, this is the leading cause of barn fires.
Check the fuse box, all cords, and your wiring to make sure they are sound. If you notice any fuses or circuits that are borne, you need to get an electrician on-site immediately.
Make sure all fire extinguishers are in place, and that all electrical wires are in conduit pipes to prevent little rats and mice from gnawing on them and starting a fire.
If you have a furnace filter, now is the time to clean it. Similarly, any light bulbs need to be replaced and all heaters need to be serviced, if you use them, too.
8. Take Other Steps to Prevent Fire
There are other steps you can take to mitigate the risk of fire, too. For example, you will want to sweep and remove any clutter inside the barn. Get rid of cobwebs with a broom, and make sure hay and straw are contained in bins or holders so they aren’t strewn everywhere.
Remove bird nests and make sure all flammable items, like fuel, are stored outside of the barn.
Consider installing smoke detectors, and make sure any appliances in the barn are equipped with automatic shut-off switches. Don’t use extension cords unless you absolutely have to.
Anything that could potentially hurt an animal or person in the barn should be taken care of, such as ropes, dangling wires, and electrical cords.
Did you know that barns can be retrofitted with sprinkler systems, and that new barns can be built to include these? Consider adding a few, if your budget permits.
9. Stockpile Sand and Salt
Both sand and salt are helpful inside and outside of the barn. They can be used to cover up spills, and to give you and your animals traction when you’re walking around outside. Make a few piles near the barn so they’re there when you need them.
10. Check on the Roof
Take some time to inspect the roof of your barn. Are there any damaged shingles that need to be replaced? Is anything leaking? Hopefully not, but at the bare minimum, you do also need to clear your rain gutters.
11. Insulate – Perhaps
In some cases, insulation may be necessary in your barn. Sometimes, your animals can get by just fine in an unheated barn, even one that is poorly insulated, as long as it’s located in the right spot. However, if you have the money, it doesn’t hurt to insulate parts of your barn, like the attic.
When you want to insulate the barn but don’t have a ton of money lying around, you can insulate with some basic insulation materials like old carpet, straw, blankets, corn stalks, and weed control liners.
Remember, once you get some snow on the ground, you won’t need to insulate quickly as much. Snow is a great insulator! Pile some snow around the barn, but remember that it’s also quite heavy – you don’t want it to make your barn cave in.
And while insulation is important, so is ventilation. Your animals need plenty of fresh air to prevent respiratory diseases.
Consider placing some thick plastic on the outside of the windows so that it’s warm, but doesn’t have an intense draft. Seal up any gaps with caulk and close louvers that are not necessary for ventilation.
12. Stockpile Animal Feed
Obviously, your animals can’t graze during the dead of winter! Therefore, you’ll want to have a stockpile of feed ready to go so that your animals can eat well throughout the season. Make sure you have all the grain and hay your animals need to stay healthy.
If you plan on storing feed in the barn, do so in rodent-proof containers. Put some netting around the rafters, too, which will prevent birds from getting inside and nesting (and getting into your feed!).
One other thing you’ll want to stockpile while you’re at it? Animal bedding. Good options for the winter months include sawdust shavings and old, dry hay.
13. Check On Your Plumbing
A lot of old barns don’t have plumbing, but if yours does, you may want to check on the pipes to make sure they are properly insulated.
There’s nothing worse than dealing with a burst pipe in the middle of winter. All you need is a bit of heat tape to prevent the pipes from freezing over. You can also wrap your water heater in insulation, if you have one.
Make sure your water supply and pressure are adequate in the barn. You might want to have your well pump serviced, too, especially if it’s been a while.
14. Stash Some Flashlights
Keep your barn well-stocked with gear in case of a power outage. At the very least, stash a few flashlights around the barn. If your barn is not heated or well-insulated, you might want to store the batteries inside.
15. Mind the Cats and Dogs
Lots of people allow cats and dogs to live in the barn over the winter months, particularly if they are barn cats or livestock guardian dogs.
If that’s the case with your barn, make sure they are well taken care of. Supply them with some blankets, straw bales, or boxes to help keep them comfortable.
16. Have an Emergency Plan
Winter seems like the time when everything seems to go wrong, doesn’t it? You may want to come up with a plan for the animals in case something goes wrong.
For example, have plans in place in case of a fire, a storm, a roof collapse, or anything of that nature. Write up the plan and make copies so you know what to do (and everyone you live with knows what to do!) if there is an emergency.
You may want to have a few holding pens in your yard where you can put the livestock in case there is such an emergency and have extra feed and other supplies on hand for something like this.
17. Clean Feeders and Waterers
Take the time to pressure washer your feeders and waterers. The cleaner, the better. And while you’re at it, you might also want to invest in some heated waterers if your barn is not heated well enough to withstand the freeze.
18. Evaluate and Reconfigure Your Drainage
Every turnout area should have a good way to drain water that will runoff from snow and rain. If you can afford it, based on the time you have available and your budget, install it long before the ground freezes.
Pay special attention to the areas around waterers and feeders, which are high-traffic areas prone to muddy, wet spots.
19. Cull Livestock
I hate writing this tip out, but unfortunately, it’s necessary. In some cases, you may have to cull your flocks or herds to remove animals that are sick, elderly, or unproductive. Caring for animals over the winter months is expensive, and often, vulnerable animals don’t make it.
20. Winterize Tools and Equipment
Any other tools and equipment that you use (particularly those that are stored in the barn) also need to be winterized now. That includes things like tractors, mowers, hand tools, and more.
Get Everyone Involved in Winterizing the Barn
The best tip I can give you for winterizing your barn? Make it a family affair (or hey, a neighborhood affair, even!). When you’re trying to get a barn winterized, it can be a challenge to get all the tasks done before that first snow arrives.
Many hands make light work, so take advantage of helpful friends and neighbors to get all of your chores done. Your animals will truly appreciate it!
Rebekah is a high-school English teacher n New York, where she lives on a 22 acre homestead. She raises and grows chickens, bees, and veggies such as zucchini (among other things).