Homesteading Through The Winter

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.

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.

Winter Rooster

Caring For The Animals

If you live in an area where winter means temps dipping below freezing, you’ll need to do a few things to ensure that your animals are kept warm and dry.

Winterizing The Coop

Chickens can actually tolerate the cold pretty well, but you still want to do all you can to keep them as warm as possible. 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.

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.

 

Winter Garden

The Winter Garden

Although many homesteaders choose to continue growing throughout the winter, so far I’ve taken this time to let my garden rest. I still have a few things coming up, a few root crops in the ground, but for the most part my garden is sleeping. One day I would love to learn to garden year round.

Before the ground freezes, you’ll want to turn it over (or till it), if you’ll be tilling regularly. Since we have raised beds, I don’t do much tilling. We’re also working on creating a no-till garden, using wood chips and other natural coverings as mulch and soil builders. If you haven’t seen the Back To Eden Film, I would highly recommend that you watch it. It’s free. And truly inspiring.

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.

Use this time to work on planning next year’s garden, and to order the seeds you’ll need long before Spring arrives.

Splitting wood

Other Outdoor Chores

Of course, there are still 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, mending fences, hunting, culling… believe me, it never stops. I’m grateful that our winters are so mild here.

sewing machine

Indoor Tasks To Tackle

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.

Here areΒ  just a few extra things (on top of day to day chores) which I do to keep myself busy and productive until Spring…

  • 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. Read my article {Canning From The Freezer} for more how-to.
  • Sewing– 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. (Check out this helpful tutorial if you want to learn how to keep the original hem.) 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.
  • Soap Making– 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.
  • Home Remedies– 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.
  • 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.
  • Β 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.
  • 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).

 

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?!

What are your favorite ways to be productive through the winter?