A checklist for Fall on the Farm
One of my favorite things about farming is the rhythm that accompanies the change of seasons. The work on the farm depends on the seasons. With each new season, comes a new set of chores. The longer I farm, the more I realize that every season is a season to prepare for winter and feeding animals during the long, cold, snowy winter days. There are joys in every season, but in the back of my mind, I am always thinking about winter preparation.
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Today, I would like to share with your our Fall Farm Checklist. It is the season of the final push toward winter preparation. I have categorized each task into an area of the farm. In this article, I am going to detail each area of the checklist and give you some extra tips for the fall farm checklist.
Every farm is different and unique. I have provided you with my personal fall checklist for our farm. You will probably have a few different tasks on your fall farm checklist. Hopefully, my list will spark some ideas of things you need to accomplish on your farm.
Barn Fall Farm Checklist
We have a very small barn. I dream of a huge barn someday, but for now, we utilize the barn we have. There is what we call the milk house, outer milk house (really it is a storage area), small haymow, milking area, and two small pens. One of the pens we utilize for our donkeys and the other is for calves or hurt or injured cow/calf/steer.
Prepare Donkeys’ Winter Pen
We have two miniature donkeys that are guardian animals for our spring calves. These donkeys guard the calves against predators like coyotes. I have watched our donkeys chase the coyotes out of the pasture. The donkeys are also pets. In the fall, we wean the calves and bring them close to the barn. Therefore the donkeys’ job is done for the year. We keep the donkeys out in the pasture as long as possible. However, our harsh northern winters are hard on them. If there is snow or other extreme winter conditions, we bring the donkeys into a pen in our barn. Preparing the pen consists of cleaning it out really well, drying it out and putting down fresh bedding.
Prepare an emergency pen for any sick or injured animal
Since our barn is small, space is at a premium. We have one small extra pen that we utilize for a sick or injured animal to heal away from the harsh winter elements. Sometimes this pen is used for a late or out of season calf or the milk cow’s calf if she has it in the winter. The preparation of this pen is basically the same as the donkey pen: cleaning it out, drying it out well, and putting down fresh bedding.
Set rodent traps and bait stations
Mice and rats are looking for a warm winter home. We find that they like to come into the barn during the fall. We set traps and set up bait stations in the fall to reduce the population. Make sure the bait stations are safely away from all livestock and children.
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Weatherize the barn as needed
This is different for every barn. I walk around the barn and look for light coming in. Check for cracks and holes and repair them as necessary. Stop drafts from coming in windows and doors by installing plastic or some other material. We also put hay bales around the inside of the outer walls to stop drafts.
Cattle Fall Farm Checklist
Our cattle herd spends winters outdoors since we do not currently have an outdoor shed. We hope to build one in the future, but for now, we do our best to prepare the cattle for winter. Thankfully, beef cattle are very hardy and can handle extreme weather.
Inspect herd and cull older, lame, or sick cows
This is my least favorite task on the farm. We love our cattle and we value the hard work they do. Since our herd isn’t very big, we have names for most of our cows. It is very difficult to decide to get rid of older cows, but it must be done for the health of the herd and to treat the cow humanely. An older, sick cow will not get enough to eat during the winter because the younger, stronger cows will push her away from the hay bales. We “catch” older cows and sell them before winter sets in.
Wean spring beef calves
Fall is the time to wean the calves born in the spring. Around the middle of October, we start creep feeding our calves.
What is creep feeding?
Creep feeding is a method of supplementing the diet of beef calves, by offering feed to calves who are still nursing. We set up a narrow gate that only calves can fit through. Inside the pen, there is grain and excellent hay. The calves get used to entering the pen to eat. Eventually, we close the gate with the calves in the pen so the calves can no longer nurse.
We also raise dairy bottle calves. These calves have already been weaned by late summer. But we also vaccinate and castrate them when we work the beef calves. You can read more about where to buy bottle calves here and 5 steps to raising the bottle calves here.
Vaccinate and castrate Calves
Once the calves are weaned, we spend a day or afternoon vaccinating all the calves and castrating the bull calves. Sometimes my husband and I do the castrating by banding the calves, sometimes we have the vet come and cut the calves to castrate them. Once the calves are healed (usually 2-3 weeks), we sometimes sell them in early winter or we keep some of them for replacement heifers or meat steers.
Prepare Winter Pastures and winterize the water tank
Preparing the winter pasture for us involves closing gates that go into our furthest pastures and removing manure from the barnyard. It is a great time to spread manure on gardens and hayfields. We also winterize our water tank by inserting a tank heater. This task is much more tolerable to stick your hands in the water in the fall rather than the first time the water freezes.
Poultry Fall Farm Checklist
We have a wide variety of poultry on our farm including chickens, ducks, turkeys, guineas, and new this year: geese. All of our birds are housed together in our main chicken coop. The birds that hatched during the summer are usually housed separately in the summer. Therefore, I introduce these birds to the coop in the fall.
Deep Clean coop and nesting boxes
Cleaning the coop is usually a chore that gets ignored all summer since my birds are free-ranged. They only spend their nights in the coop. By the time fall rolls around, the coop really needs a good cleaning. On the morning of coop cleaning, I remove all the manure and the nesting boxes. Of course, I compost the manure for the garden. I let both the coop and nesting boxes air out all day and then add new bedding in the evening before the birds return to the roost.
Start soaking and sprouting seeds for winter greens
I usually don’t do this until after the first frost. Since my chickens free-range, they feast on bugs, greens, and seeds they find around the farm. In the winter, especially once the snow falls, these things are scarce. I soak and sprout a variety of seeds to supplement their diet. I will explain this process further in a future post.
Inspect coop for repairs and seal windows and cracks
I have one window in my coop, plus an old storm door with windows. First, I close the windows and use foam to seal any drafts or cracks that I find. I do not believe in insulating the coop because I have read that it can cause respiratory problems in poultry. Here is an article that gives some good guidelines about whether to insulate or not. Scroll to the bottom of the article, to see the criteria.
Harvest or sell extra birds
My second least favorite chore on the fall farm checklist. If you raise your own chicks, no doubt you have your fair share of roosters. I have written specifically about how to handle extra roosters here. Now is a good time to butcher roosters. The weather is cooler and the roosters have had time to grow. However, don’t expect a lot of meat on these roosters. Most likely they are a layer breed and not a meat chicken breed, therefore, they will be skinnier. They taste great, fried. At the end of my article about roosters, there is a recipe for fried chicken.
Other animals fall farm checklist
We must also prepare our donkeys and dogs for winter. You may have other animals such as goats, sheep or bees. Just remember to think about each animal and their winter needs.
Fall is a great time to have our donkeys’ hooves trimmed. We also have the vet vaccinate them when he comes out to work our calves. We also start feeding the donkeys a little grain when they come into the barnyard for water. This trains them to come daily and they will be easy to catch and put in the barn during inclement weather.
We own three working dogs on our farm. Their summer housing is much different than their winter housing. The summer housing is basically an open house sheltering them against rain. Their winter homes are much snugger and protected. We also must constrain the dogs during the fall hunting season since we are surrounded by land that is hunted. We do not want our dogs to accidentally be shot or to chase wildlife.
I hope this checklist has helped you think about the winter preparations that you need to make to winterize your farm or homestead. Read part 2 of the fall farm checklist where I talk about preparations for the garden, yard, harvest, home, and homeschool.
How about you? What is on your fall farm checklist? Let me know in the comments.