Be Prepared!—Prep Your Barn for Winter

After a summer of warm weather, New Englanders know that fall means it is time to batten down the hatches and prepare for the impending winter—and inevitable nor’easter—that is coming soon. Use these tips to be ready when the temperature drops.

Use Your Head

First and foremost, use your common sense. Charlie Noyes, of A&B Barns, and Michael Taylor, president and director of Taylor Harris Insurance Services, both recommend barn owners and managers take a moment to think about how to address and prevent any problems that the cold weather and snow may bring. “If you sit down and think about it you can generally think of all the disasters that could happen with the snow—make sure that you sit down and have a proper clear thought about it,” says Taylor. No time for that? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Start Early

You want to begin prepping for the winter well beforehand. The last thing you want is to be fixing a fence when the ground is frozen or running to the store for a shovel in the middle of a blizzard.

Walk the property and do any necessary repairs before the cold comes—that means making sure that the footing in paddocks is even before freezing, fences and gates are secure, and any holes in walls or roofs are patched. “Generally just make the barn weather proof,” says Taylor. “If horses are going to go in paddocks then that needs to have reasonable footing. Any big holes, try and make sure they’re repaired.”

Check that the barn windows and doors are working property, insulated, and any tracks are clear. “As the leaves build up or grass grows and folds over, if it doesn’t get cleaned away in those areas, then the ground begins to slowly raise and there is less room for snow,” explains Noyes. “With the sliding doors in particular, the stuff that collects down around the base of the roller and the lower part of the door, that really needs to be kept away carefully. Otherwise it just builds up and freezes. Once it catches the bottom of the door, it is a lot more work to chip it away.”

Noyes also recommends checking for low branches on trees by barns and fences. “Sometimes it kind of creeps up on you and you don’t realize it, but if there are any low-hanging limbs or anything around the barn or building, sometimes those are deceiving because snow gets on them and all the sudden they show up on top of the barn,” he explains.

Gather Warmth

Aside from blanketing the horses if necessary, staying warm in the winter can be tough. Though it is suggested to store hay in an outbuilding, many New England barns store hay in a loft above the stalls. If that is the case, Noyes suggests organizing your hay storage to keep the warmth in. “When we talk to people in New England, it’s mentioned that if the hay is overhead while the horse is below, it does help to keep the animal heat, what little that there is, down more on the lower level where the horses are,” explains Noyes. “But what happens often in normal life is that [owners and managers] are usually emptying that hayloft from one side to the other. Then it’s not evenly distributed.” Be conscious of trying to keep the hay a little bit more evenly distributed across the whole loft floor to act as an insulator.

If using heated water buckets, check outlets and electrical wires to make sure everything is in working order. Test the buckets in an outlet, watching for any abnormal sparks, loose wiring, or smoking. Wrap water pipes with insulation or heat tape to ward off freezing.

Snow Patrol

One of the most obvious issues in the winter is that of the snow and ice. Because it is impossible to predict how much snow will fall and when, it is best to have a plan and preventative efforts in place ahead of time.

To start, have a designated area to put the snow. “Have a plan as to where the snow is going to be collected,” advises Noyes. “If it is plowed, or snow-blowed, or put away with a tractor, where is it going to go? Normally that is part of the overall property design.” Open areas on the property, empty paddocks that aren’t used during the winter, or even a pile next to the muck heap are good places to consider keeping the mass amount of snow that is to come. Just make sure to keep it away from any exits, walkways, and vents.

Be prepared to remove snow from the roof of your facility. While some will slide off as the sun comes out, snow is heavy and can become even heavier if it ices over, causing the roof of your building to collapse. “Make sure that the snow on the roof is cleared so you don’t have a catastrophe where the roof falls in. Try and make sure that you can clear that off someway,” instructs Taylor. Have a snow rake on hand or safety equipment ready if you have to clear the roof.

Stock Up

Have a snow blower, shovels, or a plow ready for when the weather turns. It can happen at any moment, so this should be done ahead of time. Replace any lost or broken equipment from the previous year and keep it stored in an easily accessible area. Also, stock up on animal-safe ice melt to de-ice walkways and door entrances.

In the case of a snow in, be sure you’ve got supplies for the horses for a few days. Large trash cans work well for holding a supply of water in the case of frozen pipes, grabbing a few extra bags of grain isn’t a bad idea, and Taylor suggests having a generator on hand if there is an outage.

The best advice? “Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, then you’ll probably be in good shape,” says Taylor. Rarely is a snowstorm and freezing temperatures welcome, but if you’re prepared when they arrive, it won’t be too bad.

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