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Planning for Winter Chores

February 9, 2014

Winter chores tend to be much harder than summer chores and it’s pretty easy to paint yourself into a corner chore-wise when you only use summer time chores as a guideline.  In the summer, pasture is easy and the water never freezes.    Here we try to find the appropriate scale to for determining the scale of what we want to do by hand or machine.   Making room for both methods can ease the chore pain in many areas.  We need to face the fact that we are in the materials handling business.  We try to handle things the least amount of times possible, or break a big job into smaller jobs.  Hay and feed are things that need handling whether you produce it yourself or buy it.  Making a plan for when the chores are the hardest and then doing the chores that way makes chore time a habit, and keeps you from having a surprise breakdown in the chore chain.  This weekend’s ice storm is a perfect example.  Snow and ice just slow you down and can make a daily chore a dangerous one.  Taking unnecessary steps just increases your chances of injuring yourself.  Unnecessary chores also set you up in the long run for injuries due to wear and tear on the body, and mental fatigue.

Jane headed for her hay.

Jane headed for her hay.

feeding shed attached to haybarn

open-ended feeding shed attached to  hay barn

A person can easily pack hay for one cow as I do for Jane each day.  But feeding the beef herd would take me all day unless I haul feed to them in a vehicle or feed them at the barn where the hay is stored and I can just place the hay in front of them.  In another chore note, Jane the milk cow is kept separate from the beef cows.  By doing that, she is always close by, and ready to be milked.  All I have to do is open the gate and she walks to her milking area.

Thanks Jane!

Thanks Jane!

With cows, one bale goes in the front and you haul a bale’s worth of material out the back.  The scale stays the same on this end of business too, I can easily haul a wheelbarrow load of Jane’s night soil out of the barn each day.

bedding the feeding shed

bedding the feeding shed

But hauling out the deep bedding from a small herd of cows by hand is just too much.

Stacking the deep bedding

Stacking the deep bedding


Each year we rent or barter machine usage to clean out the deep bedding.  Likewise the deep bedding shed is open on each end for easy machine clean out.  We learned that lesson the hard way when we rebuilt this barn in the photo below in its predecessor’s likeness.

halfway mark


It’s a pretty barn, but deep bedding with end walls is crazy talk.  Even if we did let the bedding build up in here and used machinery to clean up, we’re still committed to quite a bit of handwork to get the material away from the walls.  Let alone letting the bedding buildup inviting damage to the wood siding.  This barn design invites handwork, so with that in mind we use it that way.  One cow, calf and horse use this barn.  We store enough hay in this barn each summer to feed them, planning ahead during the summer for what we think we’ll need to feed out during the winter.  Likewise, the hay barn with feeding shed attachment stores the bulk of the hay harvest for winter use.

Points to remember:

♥  Think ahead for feed storage.  Try to minimize handling as much as possible.  With hay we always try to throw down if possible.  Let the bale’s weight do the work for you.  Minimize lifting and carrying as much as possible.

hay storage adjacent to feeder

hay storage adjacent to feeder

♥  Match your feed supplies to your capabilities and animals.  We make and feed small square bales finding them easiest to handle for young and old.  A child can feed the cows for you if all they need is a pocket knife.  If you commit yourself to large round bales, you commit yourself to a large piece of equipment and only adults being capable of feeding.  Our daughter isn’t a child anymore, but she could feed and bed twenty-five head of cattle with our barn setup without any tools but a pocketknife and pitchfork.  Good to know in case adults get injured in some way.

♥   Plan for dry storage of bedding supplies too if you have to keep your animals in during the winter.  Dry carbon captures more of the manure and urine and keeps the animals comfortable.  Bedding storage is our weak point…still working on that one.

♥  A bale of hay is light and easy to move compared to a wheelbarrow load of manure.  It may be that feeding your stock outside and letting the cows distribute the manure and seeds is the way to go.  Just don’t hurt yourself being a hero – one or two animals eating outside is much easier on the body than feeding ten.  Pace yourself and use equipment if appropriate.

hay seeds scattered at feeding time

hay seeds scattered at feeding time

That takes care of feeding, if we still have power tomorrow I’ll write about our watering setups for all the stock.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. February 9, 2014 6:02 pm

    Good advice. We had to learn the hard way, too.

  2. February 9, 2014 7:07 pm

    Every mile is 2 in winter, isn’t that how it goes? I wouldn’t mind it much at all if that was ALL I had to do all day…

  3. February 10, 2014 5:17 am

    I like the idea of renting or bartering the heavy equipment to do some of the work. Well done!

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    February 10, 2014 7:04 am

    Great informative post. I hope you have power today…..I’m selfish and can’t wait to hear how you guys do water!

  5. February 10, 2014 7:21 am

    Great advice. Stacking functions – as we build our farm we try to keep this concept in mind, but it is super helpful to me (and easier to remember) when I can relate it to real life examples. Even though we don’t plan on having cattle, your advice really applies to everything on a farm. The open ended shed really struck me!

  6. February 10, 2014 7:28 am

    Beautiful cows! Try to stay safe out there

  7. February 10, 2014 8:37 am

    Great blog. Thanks so much. Your livestock all is gorgeous.

  8. Bee permalink
    February 10, 2014 11:58 am

    Yes, I find I take two or three steps in the winter to one in summer, mostly because I have an aversion to falling on my keister in the mud, ice or snow. I don’t bounce nearly as well as I did when I was younger. We’ve had 7 inches of rain in 48 hours, and while I’m delighted, given our drought conditions, it made for some really slippery feeding conditions last night. Our soil has a lot of clay, so it goes from wet to slime very quickly. And it’s not just us — I worry about the animals taking a spill, too. The brood mare got silly the other day at feeding time and went down pretty hard. Luckily no damage to mama or baby.

  9. barefootfarmflower permalink
    February 10, 2014 3:08 pm

    This really hit home for me during the past week of snow & ice. Our hay barn is completely on the opposite side of our property from where we milk and feed our dairy cows. Fifty weeks out of the year, no problem. When we knew the snow was going to be coming in, my husband made plans to move a week’s worth of hay near the dairy girls. We barely got it done in time. Then he went sledding with my son and injured his back. There would have been absolutely no way I could have moved that hay on my own, after the snow fell. And honestly, I would have had a hard time moving it on a sunny day. We have plans to build a new storage structure for hay this summer. Right next to those sweet girls. “Touch it once” is a motto worth living by.

  10. February 11, 2014 6:21 am

    we also learned the hard way about hay being CLOSE to where you’ll be using it! We usually have 2 feet of snow for 3months of the year, lugging bales anywhere is/was just dumb! The a friend suggested using a sled, but by far, it’s best to just have the bales unloaded in the summer where you want them in the winter. Now I know why hay mows in old school barns were built in the first place, right! I love the ramp you have fashioned as a trough as well for the cattle to eat the hay off of. Smart! Love your blog!

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