Though the days grow shorter and the air gets a little more frigid, a homesteader’s work never ceases. There are still chores to be done outdoors, even through the winter months. Thankfully though, many tasks can be done indoors by the warmth of a glowing fire.
Winter should never be deemed the “off season” on the homestead. Sure, you can make time to cuddle up to the woodstove and relax with a cup of hot chocolate, but only after you have taken advantage of the gardening, butchering, canning, and livestock birthing season downtime.
While spring, summer, and early fall are traditionally the busiest times on the homestead, the short and chilly days of winter offer the opportunity to get to chores you did not have time for when gardening tasks took precedence and to prepare thoroughly for the spring growing season – as well as find time to enhance your self-reliance homesteading skill set.
Whether you’re starting your new homestead, or dreaming of the day, here are a few winter chores you can scribble down on your checklist of things to do ’til Spring.
The list tends to grow as the weeks and months move along after the first days of spring as the daily chores keep materializing in great abundance.
The winter is a perfect time to finally get to replacing poor fence posts, drawing out a plant to expand your growing operation, and taking inventory of all your “junk – treasures” that could be repurposed into something useful around your homestead.
Winter homesteading opportunities abound regardless of where your live or how small your acreage may be. Nearly all homesteaders keep at least a mental “to do” list in their heads all year-long.
Here are just a few extra things (on top of day to day chores) which I do to keep myself busy and productive until spring…
Top 25 Chores You Should Do on Your Homestead This Winter
Take advantage of all those leaves still on the ground and infuse them into your compost pile. There is no better time to work on your compost pile than the winter.
By adding to and turning the compost pile regularly from December through March the natural ingredients will have time to process and be immediately ready for use when planting season finally rolls back around.
Seed and Poultry Shopping
Nothing really seems to brighten a frigid gray winter day more than the arrival of a new seed catalog or hatchery catalog. Spend a few hours browsing the catalogs or online offerings to start planning your garden and flock expansion.
You may become inspired to try to grow something new, learn more about medicinal herbs and plants, or to branch out into different or perhaps even heritage, chicken breeds.
Guineas are difficult to find at agricultural supplies when they have their spring “chick days”, but you can usually find these hilarious flock protectors in hatchery catalogs for a nominal price.
There is no better time to start tomato (and other) seeds than during the winter months. It is quite a money saver to start your own plants from seeds you have preserved or purchased instead of buying started plants from a supplier when gardening time is upon us.
Fence Mending and Expansion
Often we only have time for temporary fence, post, and gate fixes when the homestead is at its busiest time in the spring, summer, and into the fall.
During the winter, before the ground gets too hard, add a full fencing inspection to your list and add “buddy poles,” post replacement, wire tightening, panel replacement, and any expansion plans you been dying to develop to your homesteading to do list.
Of course, there are other things that can be done outdoors even through the winter months. What you can do depends upon your weather, but don’t let less daylight get the better of you.
Make the most of each day, and try to get outside even if only for a few minutes of fresh air. I always feel better when I’ve been outside, even if only long enough to dump a bowl of compost in the garden.
Around here, we tend to spend the warmer winter days doing yard cleanup, splitting wood, cutting down fallen trees, repairing structures, culling … believe me, it never stops. I’m grateful that our winters are so mild here.
Cage and Trellis Making
If you use tomato cages or trellises as support for some of your garden crops, plan a making session in your garage during a chilly winter weekend and crank out as many as you need long before the planting season is slated to begin.
Conduct a complete inventory of all your tools, and then perform any needed maintenance and sharpen tools in need.
Chicken Coop Maintenance and Winterization
Chickens can actually tolerate the cold pretty well, but you still want to do all you can to keep them as warm as possible.
Give the chicken coop and run a thorough disinfecting cleaning and stock it with plenty of clean fresh straw to keep your flocks warm for the winter.
Consider adding a solar hanging chicken coop light (or two) to not only give the birds more light inside of a dark coop when they spend more time indoors, but to foster increased egg laying during the lowest production time of the year.
Here are a few things we do to winterize the coop…
- Wrap openings with thick, clear plastic. Make sure you can still open a window, or a door for ventilation. The door on the front of our coop is screen with chicken wire over it for ventilation. When it starts to get cold at night, we staple a sheet of clear plastic over the door to keep out the drafts and to hold in the heat. The door to the run stays open all day, so air is still able to circulate.
- Don’t clean the coop! Instead of scooping out the manure, pile on thick layers of straw or hay and continue adding to the layers throughout the winter months. This “deep litter” method actually generates heat from the manure as it breaks down into a nice compost to use on your Spring garden.
- Leave a light on. You’ve got to be careful here. Be very sure that the lamp and bulb you are using are secure before you decide to leave a light on in the coop for your flock. A friend of ours was using a heat lamp in his coop when it got knocked to the floor and ignited the straw there. The entire coop went up in flames. It was very sad. Some people use Christmas lights in the coop, which seems to be a safer, though slightly less effective, option.
- Put up insulation. If you have terribly cold winters where you live, you might want to put up some sort of insulation on the inside of the coop. I’ve heard of people using re-purposed bubble wrap, cardboard, and even Styrofoam as insulation between layers of plywood. I would suggest that you keep in mind the problem of mice between the walls, and try to use materials that they wouldn’t be inclined to chew up.
- Bring the water indoors. If you have room inside of your coop, you might want to bring the water bucket inside where it won’t be as likely to freeze. Keep it elevated so it doesn’t get yucky stuff in it. You might also consider a heated water bucket, if you have deep freezes regularly.
Rabbit Hutch Winterization
Like your poultry birds, rabbits will also need some help getting ready for winter. If you rabbit hutch is open wire on the sides, add some metal, wood, or heavy plastic like covering to at least the back to give the rabbits a break from the elements. Clean and disinfect the cage thoroughly and fill it with fresh clean straw.
Even if you cleaned your wood stove, wood cook stove, or fireplace chimney in the fall in preparation for winter, heavy use once the weather finally turns chilly can cause creosote buildup long before you are done using the heat and cooking source in the late spring.
Use this time to work on planning next year’s garden, and to order the seeds you’ll need long before Spring arrives.
Speaking of mulch, winter is a great time to start working on building up a nice layer of mulch over your beds and walkways, when you can prevent the slumbering weeds from popping their heads back up when the ground warms again.
Till up the garden during not just the fall but again in the winter before the ground gets too hard for the farm equipment to break at least one foot of soil.
Not only will turning the dirt help enhance the soil it will also expose any destructive insect eggs or larvae buried in it to the late year chill, effectively killing them before they can mature and do damage to your crops in the coming year.
Give your tractors and other farm implements a thorough inspection and conduct any cleaning and maintenance that needs to be done before they are primarily parked away for the winter.
Remember to turn all equipment on once a week throughout winter to ensure the batteries remain charged, and the engine able to turn before they once again see hours of daily use on the homestead.
Cold Frame Making and Cleaning
If you use cold frames to start seeds and plants outdoors earlier than the weather in your region would allow otherwise – or have always wanted to, winter is the time to build or position and clean them out in advance of the early spring when they will be needed.
Prep the ground beneath where the cold frames will be placed by turning the soil, adding processed compost to it, and then covered with hay or straw to help keep the area warm and active as much as possible.
Winterize your beehives to help thwart cold brood and unnecessary honeybee deaths as much as possible.
Cold weather prep for beehives includes relocating the hives to a nearby and more sunny spot, reducing the opening on the entrance of the hive to protect the queen and her colony from the elements
Wrap a hive insulator around each one or making your own temperature protective covering out of cardboard and straw bales, and providing supplements to the colony to ensure they are getting enough nutrients as they work through their stockpiles of honey and pollen.
Start or enhance your homemaking skills by sewing, embroidering, baking, crocheting, knitting,quilting, leathercrafting, toy making etc.
Learning or broadening your ability to make your own clothing, accessories, and gifts is a great way to repurpose outgrown clothing and torn clothing into fabric – giving it new life as another useful item.
Making your own clothing and gifts is also a great way to save money in the coming year.
The only truly useful thing I’ve learned to do with my sewing machine so far is to hem our pants.
Which I was thrilled to learn, by the way. ( I hope to learn how to make a little girl’s dress soon. Knitting and crocheting are also great skills to learn while you sit by a roaring fire.
Check out this helpful tutorial if you want to learn how to keep the original hem:
Learn or improve on your general homesteading skillset by learning blacksmithing, pottery, carpentry, mechanics, etc. The more work you can complete successfully yourself the more self-reliant you will become – saving money in the process.
During the long cold months of winter take advantage of having extra time on your hands by making bulk batches of candles, powdered or liquid laundry detergent, soap, etc. If you’re short on funds you can make a simple tallow candle from hamburger grease and tin cans.
It doesn’t take long to make a year’s worth of soap for your family to enjoy until next winter, and now is a great time to do it! But don’t stop there, continue experimenting making different toiletries, such as toothpaste, deodorant, shampoo and conditioner, lotion, chapstick, etc.
Again, the more skills you possess the less dependent you will be on commercially manufactured products, keeping more money in your pocket at the same time.
During the winter I like to read up on herbs and home remedies, print off recipes I’d like to try, and place orders for the herbs, essential oils, and carrier oils I’ll need.
Once I have everything in place, I am able to make tinctures and salves to treat my family in the coming months. Winter is a great time to experiment with learning which remedies work best to help your family treat their ailments fast.
Yes, you read that right fellow homesteaders, canning. Sure, it has been a long time since the garden harvest, but there are still many, many things that can be water bath or pressure canned to inexpensively fill up your pantry. Winter is a fine time to make and can bean soup, chili, sauces, deer meat, and stew.
Freezer Canning. This is when I make my way through my large chest freezer, and work on canning the stuff I didn’t have time to can during the busy summer months. Here’s how I do it.
There is no better time that winter to curl up with a good educational book about homesteading to learn new things that can aid you when gardening, sewing, butchering, blacksmithing, hunting, etc. once the weather breaks and you can once again spend the bulk of your time outdoors.
Winter hunting seasons vary by state, but at various times through the winter you can hunt with specific types of rifles, muzzleloaders, and bows. Some animals that can commonly be hunted during the winter include deer, squirrels, doves, rabbits, ring-neck pheasant, geese, quail, and chukar.
Set traps to catch wild game for their meat and fur and also to rid your homestead of garden and small livestock predators. As with hunting, the trapping seasons and game rules vary by state.
Common winter trapping game include possum, raccoon, fox, skunk, muskrat, mink, weasel, beaver, and river otter.
Hone your firearms and bow targeting skills to increase your odds of taking down predators and wild game on your homestead.
If you do not mind spending hours outdoors in the cold, give ice fishing a try on your own pond or a state park lake.
Building an Ice House
Build an ice house to take at least some of your homesteading activities off grid – make them far more sustainable. There are many ways you can go about constructing an ice house, but the least expensive way is to retrofit or build a metal shed or cinder block shed that is heavily insulated with thick sheets of styrofoam.
Fill plastic buckets that boast firm-fitting lids with water and allow them to freeze. Place the filled buckets inside the structure and allow them to freeze completely. Cover the buckets will sawdust to help keep the buckets insulated.
Place the food you are trying to refrigerate or freeze directly on top of the sawdust covered buckets or use board and cinder blocks to create shelves above them.
There are likely far more edible and medicinal natural items you can forage in the winter than many people realize. Spend some time learning what winter foraging items exist in your region, and how to identify them and then bundle up and go for a hike. Common winter foraging items include
|black walnuts||rose hips|
|beech nuts||hop hornbeam seeds|
|wild quinoa||hawthorn berries|
|partridge berries||tea berries|
Tap not only the maple trees on your homestead, but 17 other sap-producing trees. Birch trees do not produce as much sap as maple trees, but the syrup it makes boasts a delicious butterscotch taste.
Feeding & Watering The Animals
No matter what the weather: rain, shine, or snow, the animals depend on you to take care of them. Like it or not, you have the responsibility to brave the elements to make sure that your flock or herd is protected and fed.
Every day they need to be fed and given fresh water. If you have significantly cold winters, you may want to invest in a heated water bucket to keep the water from freezing. If you’re expecting a significant storm, fill up the feeders and watering buckets the night before.
Feeding your chickens cracked corn right before they go up to roost for the night will help them stay warmer, because their bodies will be working on digesting that food.
Give your animals a place to eat their food off of the ground. Chickens shouldn’t have to peck in the snow to find the corn you tossed, and goats can get sick if you make them eat their hay off the ground.
Milking & Collecting Eggs
Unless you have dried up your milker or you’re allowing a baby to nurse, goats and cows need to be milked twice a day. Be sure you create a warm, covered area to do your milking out of the cold and wetness.
Chickens generally slow to an almost stop in the egg production department throughout the winter. Currently, we’re getting about an egg a day, out of 20-something hens.
Make sure the nesting boxes have fresh bedding, but don’t expect to get very much. If you leave a light on overnight, as mentioned above, it can help chickens to lay more often as they are tricked into thinking the days are still long.
Personally, I don’t leave a light on overnight unless it’s going to be extremely cold and I think they’ll need a little extra heat.
Cheesemaking and waxing-
The cooler months are an ideal time to make cheese, and wax cheese (which is super fun, by the way, check out my cheese waxing tutorial).
Organizing and Decluttering
There must be something about being stuck indoors that gives me the itch to completely purge every nook and cranny, and to work on making things look nicer around the inside of our home.
If you haven’t done a deep clean in a while, take a week to go through everything you own and decide whether you truly need it or not. Getting the clutter out of your life is a great way to reduce stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Although I much prefer to be outdoors than in, I have to admit that I do enjoy all of the fun projects I am able to get done while being forced to stay indoors for most of the day.
Preparing For Power Outages
It doesn’t take much for us to lose power here. A few inches of accumulated ice on local power lines is all it takes to put us in the dark for days. Having the supplies we would need to get by until the power is restored is essential. I’m always trying to be one step ahead through the snowy months… just in case.
Of course, there’s always so much to do when homesteading. But working on projects such as these throughout the winter helps break up the monotony of daily activities. With a list like this, who could possibly come down with cabin fever?!
Winter could shape up to be one of the busiest and most productive seasons on the homestead if you plan out your weekly activities and use the “down” time wisely.
Learning is a vital part of homesteading. Take advantage of the months which do not require you to be working the garden heavily to become an even more well-rounded and self-sufficient modern homesteader.
What are your favorite ways to be productive through the winter?
updated by Tara Dodrill 12/14/2019