Plan ahead to prepare for severe winter weather

CEWN-MR-1-Winter weather35by Sally Colby

Like all seasons, winter comes with its own set of obstacles. In most cases, farmers deal with winter weather fairly smoothly, but this winter has been particularly challenging for many producers who have dealt with frustrations from extreme cold and broken pipes to making equipment repairs in frigid temperatures.

With modern weather prediction services, farmers are better able to make timely decisions and can prepare for severe weather events ahead of time. However, it’s impossible to predict all of the likely scenarios, and many unexpected incidents can result from severe weather.

All farm personnel should know what constitutes an emergency, and be aware of their role during such an emergency. An ‘emergency’ may be defined differently from farm to farm, and may include extreme cold, ice storm, heavy snow, loss of power, loose livestock  or similar scenarios. Create a list of emergency contacts and post it in several areas where both family and hired workers have access to the list. The list should include contact information for other family members, emergency services (police, fire and ambulance) and medical alert data for individuals who have serious medical conditions.

Prior to a severe weather event, make sure all family members and employees know what their role will be after the event. It’s much easier to designate tasks during a regular meeting than afterwards in the confusion of cleanup.

Create a written list of protocol and assignments so everyone is sure of their role. For example, assign a person to handle snow removal, and make sure that his or her regular duties will be covered while that individual is taking care of another task. Designated personnel should be familiar with how to shut down the main power source and initiate back up power during an emergency. Make sure that all cell phones and other personal electronic devices are fully charged and operational.

Safety should be the first concern in any situation, whether it’s during the severe weather event or afterwards. Do not attempt to conduct a clean up of snow or ice unless the equipment for that task is appropriately sized, in good working order and ready to use. Personnel who operate equipment during or after severe weather should be trained beforehand rather than learn on-the-job in potentially hazardous situations.

Fire extinguishers should be properly sized, fully charged and placed appropriately on the farm. Farms should maintain an ample supply of fuel for both tractors and generators. When a severe weather event is predicted, farm management should ensure that equipment such as tractors, skid steers and all-terrain vehicles are fully fueled and placed so that operators have quick and easy access to them.

Prior to a storm, determine the best location for livestock in the case of a severe weather emergency. In most cases, the existing housing is likely to be the best option, but be prepared with a back-up location. Determine how animals will be moved from one location to another, and decide who will be involved in moving stock. Make sure that sliding barn doors are in good working order and can be easily closed prior to the onset of severe weather. If young calves or other young stock are outside in hutches or similar housing, consider moving them to the farm shop or other building that affords more protection. Keep a supply of tarps that can be erected to block snow, rain and wind.

Make sure there is adequate stored feed for livestock, and stockpile water in heated tanks. Livestock should be identified, preferably with visible tags that can be traced to the farm. In the event that downed fences or building collapse result in loose livestock, properly identified animals will be easier to locate and account for. Gather essential veterinary supplies and store them in a location that can be easily accessed.

Have a plan for disposing of deceased livestock, including an alternative until proper composting can be done. Whenever possible, carcasses should not be allowed to freeze prior to being added to a compost pile. If multiple mortalities are involved, contact your state agency for guidance.

Be aware of the snow load limit for all farm buildings, and be prepared to remove snow that exceeds that limit. Depending on the character of the snow, accumulated snow on a roof weighs between 15 and 20 pounds per cubic foot. Watch for snow that drifts from a larger/taller building onto an adjacent smaller building, which may result in a load that exceeds the limit for that smaller building. After a heavy snow, check the interior structure of buildings to make sure  rafters and trusses are intact and not compromised. If a severe storm is immediately followed by warmer temperatures, be aware of water drainage and make sure that water is properly diverted to prevent pooling and flooding. Pooled water can quickly become an additional hazard if temperatures drop before evaporation takes place.

Be sure that drainage is properly diverted from manure storage areas to prevent contamination from runoff. Whenever possible, manure storage facilities should be at least partially empty so accumulated manure won’t have to be moved during a weather emergency. If manure must be moved, make sure it’s done in compliance with state manure handling regulations.

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