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As much as I hate to admit that summer is gone, it is. Fall is here. It’s time to prepare for winter on the homestead. Leaves are changing, the nights are getting colder, and there’s been lots of rain.
I enjoy fall, it’s really my favorite season, but it also means that the days are getting so much shorter. When I get home from work I only have about an hour and a half of daylight left. I have to do my farm chores right away if I want to do them without using a flashlight.
Watching the leaves turn to gold makes me realize that winter is not too far behind. That’s what makes fall a very busy season for homesteaders. There is so much that needs to be done in the fall before the weather turns bad.
Here are some of the things that really need to be done to prepare for winter on the homestead.
Clean out the coop in preparation for deep litter.
I use the deep litter method in my chicken coop. About twice a year, in the spring and in the fall the coop gets a thorough cleaning, with some natural disinfectant, and a sprinkling of DE. Then I layer pine shavings all over the coop. About once a week or so, I remove excessive droppings, then fluff up and turn the wood shavings. Then I add another layer of new pine shavings over the top.
You can read my post on the deep litter method here. Deep litter is pretty low-maintenance, and is great for the cooler months. You want to get the litter deep to prepare for winter.
Making sure all of the animals have shelter from the cold.
Don’t leave your animals out in the cold! Make sure they have adequate housing too. Your livestock needs to be able to stay dry and warm. A pallet shelter usually works just fine for goats, sheep, and other large animals. It just needs to let them get out of the elements.
It’s a good idea to put straw or some sort of insulating bedding into the shelters. This will allow the animals to snuggle up into something warm, instead of just the cold, hard ground.
For chickens and other poultry, I suggest putting some type of roof over the run to help keep them dry. Cattle panels bent in an upside-down U shape with a tarp or heavy-duty plastic over it works well. This way, the rain and snow will be able to run off without weighing down your tarp.
Wrapping part of the chicken run in plastic is a good idea also. I find it really helpful to secure plastic on the sides that get the most wind. For me, since my coop is on the north side of the run, I like to put plastic on the east and west sides, leaving the south side open to allow the most sunshine in.
Buy or DIY freeze-resistant animal waterers.
Get ready for the freezing temperatures of winter by investing in or making freeze-resistant animal waterers. These can be quite expensive, so if you are handy and can DIY some, it will save you a lot of money.
Last winter for our chickens, we built a little wood frame on the floor and mounted a light socket in the center of it. We put a regular light bulb in it, and kept the plastic waterer sitting on the frame just a few inches above the light bulb.
The only issue we had with this is, the deep litter kept piling up around the bulb. And then it got wet from the waterer. I ended up having to unplug this outlet so no one would get shocked. I’m thinking this will need to be totally enclosed, with maybe an aluminum top to allow the heat to radiate through it.
The Chicken Chick has a post about making a DIY cookie tin waterer heater that is probably an improved design from our idea. I might have to just try it.
Purchase and haul the hay that you will need.
Trust me on this one, you need to buy your hay early in the season. Hay prices are already going up, but I promise you it will be cheaper right now than in the winter. You might need to do some calculating based on how many bales you need per day or per week, multiplied by how many days or weeks of winter and spring you normally have until hay is back in season. While it may be a bit of an investment all at once, it really is the cheapest way to do it (besides growing your own!).
Take advantage of the lower hay prices now to prepare for winter. Make sure you have your hay up off the wet ground (pallets work great for this), and try to protect it from the rain and snow with a heavy-duty tarp. You don’t want your hay to get moldy and ruin your investment.
Plant a fall garden.
If you didn’t get enough gardening throughout the summer, why don’t you try gardening in the fall? Depending on your gardening zone, you may be able to get a couple more harvests of cold-hardy vegetables before winter really hits. Or you can start plants to move inside, or keep in a cold frame.
You may want to consider growing a cover crop or two to improve your garden soil. It’s a great way to supplement a little animal feed, plus improve your soil for your own garden in the spring. And last but not least, get your garlic planted in the fall, to be grown until next summer. You can read my post about fall gardening here.
If you don’t do a fall garden, put the garden to bed.
There are lots of garden chores you can do in the fall, to have a better garden next year. Harvest all of your leftover vegetables. Remove the dead plants or turn them in to the garden if they’re not diseased (the plants breaking down into the soil actually helps the soil). Give the garden area a good cleaning and raking.
It’s also very beneficial to put compost and mulch down on the garden before winter. Compost helps amend the soil, and mulch protects the soil from erosion and nutrient loss. They both also help with weed control and will help with your spring gardening.
While you’re putting the garden to bed, think about what you’re going to do with the compost throughout the winter. If you haven’t used all of it on the garden, you can keep your pile going into the winter as well. In the fall I’m usually starting a new compost pile with the deep litter that I cleaned from the chicken coop and rabbit colony.
Do a thorough outside cleanup.
There is always clutter on the homestead. Make sure you take the opportunity while it’s still nice out to clean up the yard and sheds. I love to do an outside fall cleaning, as well as an inside. Put up the summer toys, lawn chairs, and the pool. Move all the random tools to storage. Chair cushions should go in the shed so they stay dry (you can still pull them out when you need to use them).
Rake those leaves! Mow the lawn for the last couple times, and put the grass clippings in your compost, along with the leaves. You will have some beautiful soil amendments come spring!
Winterize your house.
Take the window air conditioners out, close up the windows and make sure there are no drafts coming in through them. You may need caulking, weatherstripping, or even plastic over the windows. The door needs to be done as well.
Give all heaters a good cleaning and make sure they’re in good working order. You don’t want to run into a heating emergency when it’s really cold out. If you’re lucky enough to have central air, you may want to consider duct cleaning in the fall.
Since we are inside so much more when it’s cold, it makes sense to clean the air ducts so we’re breathing cleaner air. Winterizing the house to prepare for winter will result in lower power bills and a warmer, cozier home.
Get the firewood ready.
If you have a wood stove, hopefully you got all of your firewood this spring and summer, and it’s been drying for a few months. Make sure you get it all split and ready to use.
We always have ours stacked in a metal storage shed. About once a week or so, we load up the wheelbarrow with wood and take it to a dry area on our front porch. This way we can reach out really easily to get more wood whenever it’s needed.
I also make sure we have plenty of newspaper nearby, and fire starters. I make our own fire starters (post coming soon!) and keep them in a box near the stove. That way they’re organized and readily available.
Cozy up the house.
Fall is the perfect time for any home, on the homestead or not, to cozy up the house. Put down some rugs. Add lots of throw blankets. Put flannel sheets on your bed.
Diffuse fall-blend essential oils (or candles if you must) to bring in the ambiance of fall. Essential oils smell fabulous and have medicinal qualities, such as immune boosting, germ killing, or congestion busting. A lot of the fall blends, especially, help ward off the inevitable cold and flu bugs.
Stock up on medicines, or make your own.
Fall is a great season to beef up your medicine chest. With cold and flu season looming, it is a great idea to be prepared with common medicines so you don’t have to go to the store when you’re sick. You definitely don’t want to have to make your own medicine when you’re sick, either, so try to prepare those beforehand as well. It is a great idea to boost your immune system to prepare for winter, as well.
Try to find herbs that grow in your area that you can forage for your own medicine. Use this little time left in decent weather to gather those herbs.
One herb that I always forage to prepare for winter is elderberry. Elderberry syrup is a great immune booster, and it’s anti-viral. Not many medicines work on viruses, but elderberry does. That means it is great for colds and flus. It may even help keep you from getting sick.
As the knowledge of elderberry’s powers spreads, elderberry has gotten in high demand. Last winter, and I think the winter before that, herbal shops ran out of elderberry. Commercial versions like Sambucol were flying off the shelves. There just wasn’t enough for the increased demand.
That’s why I’m so glad that I have this amazing natural resource readily available to me. You can read my post here about a few other of my favorite home remedies.
Whatever size homestead you have, you will inevitably have a big list of chores to do to prepare for winter. It may be helpful to make a checklist so you don’t forget the important chores.
What do you do in the fall to prepare for winter on the homestead? Please share in the comments!
This post has been updated and is done in collaboration with other amazing homestead and natural living bloggers. I would greatly appreciate if you would check out their fall posts as well, and let them know you found them from me!
Annie @ 15 Acre Homestead
Julia @ Julias Daily Tips
Kristi @ The Stone Family Farmstead
Marla @ Organic 4 Green Livings
Frank @ My Green Terra
Candy @ Candys Farmhouse Pantry
Rosie @ A Green and Rosie Life
Valerie @ Living My Dream Life On The Farm
Chelsea @ The Green Acre Homestead
Joyce @ Natural Bliss Podcast Blog
Joy @ Bean Post Farmstead
Kathryn @ Farming My Backyard