12 Tips to Get Your Homestead Ready for Winter - Melissa K. Norris

12 Tips to Get Your Homestead Ready for Winter

By Melissa Norris | Homestead-Life

Oct 13

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This is a look at the steps we take in the fall to ready our homestead for the upcoming winter months. These tips range from animal and livestock care, to the garden, and then your home.

Here in the Pacific Northwest of Washington state, in the north Cascade mountain range, my husband and our two kiddos, live on our modern homestead of 15 acres. We raise our own beef cattle, pork, laying hens, and we also raise and butcher our own meat chickens.

We’ve got a big old vegetable garden and fruit trees, and from our garden to our livestock we use organic practices. I’ve been getting quite a few questions lately on livestock, so the tips that I’m going to share with you today are actually going to range all the way through from livestock to the garden, and raising your own food, and then we’re going to go in a little bit to home care.

Even if you’re not raising livestock, but it’s something that’s on your radar that you want to get going with, or you’ve got a garden, these tips are going to help you and give you a checklist of things to run through, or things that you need to know moving into when you get your livestock.


We’ll start with our livestock fall tips and move into the garden and home from there!

Livestock and Animal Fall Readiness Checklist

  1. Asses Your Feed Supply. Because we raise our cattle all on grass and hay, we have to make sure we have enough hay to feed them through the winter months. Usually, the beginning of summer is the best time to line up your hay purchases (we purchases from a few local fields and farmers). Because we had a very dry summer, we were forced to feed our cattle some of the winter hay. Which meant we needed to purchase an extra 5 bales of hay (we use the big marshmallows white wrapped hay) to ensure we had enough for the winter. Resource Episode #23 Raising Your Own BeefIf you’re going to run short you’ll need to look at selling or butchering an extra animal. Fall is the time to make these decisions.
  2. Shelter. We don’t have a barn for any of our animals. We don’t want to put anything else on debt or on loan and you can definitely raise your own animals without having a barn. There are ways to do it.Use the natural advantages of your property. We’ve got some different shelter areas around our property. We have a fairly heavily wooded area where we’ve got the evergreen trees, so they can get under that when it’s really heavy snow or a lot of rain coming out.

    We have  some pasture elevation changes, so if there’s a lot of wind coming, they can go down to that bottom pasture, and snuggle up right at the bottom of that bank, and then the wind kind of goes over top of their backs. This creates a natural wind block for the cattle.

    Pig care and shelter needs. We have a shed for the pigs in the pigpen that they can go in to get out of the weather. We are not butchering for another four to five weeks, and pigs do not have fur, right? They’ve got some hair on them, but they don’t have a lot of fur. They are not meant for really cold weather.They’ll get cold. Part of the problem, if they start to get cold they can get sick very easily. Resource 12 Tips on How to Raise Pigs for Meat

    Another thing that’s not good is if you’re planning on butchering these pigs, when they get cold and the weather turns really cold if they get cold, they are going to start burning through the feed that you are feeding them in order to keep warm, which means your feed costs go up, and they will start to lose weight.We’re planning on butchering about mid-November. The weather is starting to turn here. We are having a warm fall. We’ve had a couple of light frosts, but overall it’s still been pretty decent out, but one of the things that we’re looking at is once we start to get those really cold days where it’s not warming up with the sun coming out, and those really cold night temperatures and hard freezes, is we will have to put a heat lamp in with our pigs up until it’s time to butcher.

    Chicken care and winter needs. We do not use heat lamps for the chickens. They have got a nice, insulated coop. They’ve got all their feathers, and we prefer to let our chickens follow more of way God intended or nature intended when He created them, their life cycle, and that’s to give them a break in the wintertime from laying eggs, because as they get those shorter daylight hours, they will naturally stop producing eggs. It gives their body a rest from doing the egg production. See our Chicken Raising Posts here

    There are two dangers of heat lamps with chickens you need to be aware of. We choose not to use the heat lamp. There are dangers associated with heat lamps in a coop. You can have fires and that type of thing, and also where we live here in the Pacific Northwest, we lose power quite often, and when we lose power, then they lose their heat lamp. Because the pigs are going to be butchered soon, the heat lamp’s not going to be on them for an extreme portion of time.

    We will use the heat lamp for them, but with the chickens, and I’m specifically talking about our laying hens because the meat chickens we raise for 12 weeks in the summertime and then they’re butchered. They’re not something we winter over.

    With our laying hens, if we put a heat lamp in now, and they get used to it being warm, they don’t become acclimated to those colder temperatures gradually as they do as just the seasons change. If the power goes out and it’s out for extended periods of time, they are going from being used to being warm into extreme temperatures really quick.

    Use nature to your advantage with the heat. Our coop is moveable, and wemake sure that it is facing the sun, a natural way to keep them warm. We also make sure that the coop door is arranged away from the direction that our winter winds come in, so that it’s not sneaking in through the door. Those are some things that we look at, and make sure that we have done for our animals.

  3. Breeding Cycles. In order to keep our herd going, we breed back our cows. I’ve got two of my cows that need to be bred back now in order for them to calve next year. A cow’s cycle of being pregnant, their gestation period is very similar to that of a human. It’s about nine months. We’re going to breed them now, and then they will have their babies early this summer. We don’t keep a bull on our property. We have a pretty small herd and the cost of keeping a bull year round for the size of our herd isn’t practical. We are fortunate enough that I’ve got a brother, and a dad, and some neighbors that do keep bulls, but we still have to get in and make sure that we’ve arranged for that bull to come, or for us to take our cows to that bull.If you’re not breeding back (we don’t breed and keep pigs year round) make sure you’re lined up with your breeder to get your animals from them in the spring time.
  4. Water in Freezing Temps. This is important, water is just important, if not more, during the cold temps, as it is in the hot months. I can supple the chickens (they don’t drink as much) with water easily with water from the house or our frost free pump.I can’t pack enough water to keep our cattle herd supplied when it’s frozen. We use an electric stock tank heater during the winter. Make sure it’s in working order, no frayed cords (or mice chewing on the electric components over the summer), and in a spot ready to go when the cold hits.

Fall Garden Tips for Winter Readiness

  1. Put your garden to rest with a clean up. We go through the garden this time of year and pull up everything that’s spent and that is done, all of the warm weather vegetables, your beans, your tomatoes, all of those things. This is important, especially if you had anything that was diseased. You do not want to those diseased vines or produce left to rot in your garden and to reinfect your soil for next year’s crop, so it’s important if you had anything that was diseased, that you yank that out of your garden area. Don’t put it in with your compost. Put it in the garbage if you’re not able to burn it. It depends on everybody’s situation, but make sure you dispose of that so it’s not sitting and reinfecting your soil for next year’s crops.
  2. Use it to your advantage. For anything that is not diseased, use it to strengthen your soil for next year. You can turn it back into the ground to let it break down over the winter months. Of course you can bring in manure, straw, leaves that are falling down. For more garden soil prep see this podcast  Episode #38 Fall Garden Prep 10 Tips to Improve Your Soil Now
  3. Plant your garlic.  At the time of this recording, it’s just mid-November. Garlic is great because you plant it in the fall, and then you harvest it again the next summer, so you get it in the ground, and it just does its thing, and then you get to harvest it next July.  As long as your ground is not frozen solid, you can go ahead and plant your garlic. You just want to make sure and put a layer of straw over it, to help with drainage, and give it a little bit of insulation.


Asses your fruit harvest for the year

This is also a great time of year for you to assess how much harvest you got off of your fruit crops, so think fruit trees, bushes like blueberries, raspberries, that type of thing because this is the perfect time of year in the fall to put in some of those.

Fall can be a great time to plant because they’ll have time for their roots to go down before they get to the stress of summertime, and usually a little bit drier, more drought conditions. As trees and bushes start to move into their dormancy, that can be a good time to put them in. See 9 Fruits to Plant in Winter

Ready the Cabin for Winter (aka your house)

We use a wood stove as our primary heat source. Fortunately, our homestead is forested and every year we lose at least one to two trees which is then turned into fire wood. Early summer begins the splitting and stacking of the wood (we rotate it into the woodshed when it’s seasoned and dried).

The wood stove is then used for cooking during the winter months as well as our heat source.

Make sure that you clean your chimney out. Nobody wants a chimney fire. We usually do it a couple of times throughout the winter, too, but definitely in the beginning of the year.

  1. Whatever your heat source, make sure it’s ready to go (cleaning, maintenance, etc.)
  2. Clean out the gutters, those heavy rains are a coming.
  3. Redo any seals on the roof around chimneys and/or vents.

Bonus tip, do some fall cleaning!

I know a lot of people get into spring cleaning, which I do, too, but I dry all of our clothes, all of my laundry out on the line as much as possible. If it’s sunny out or not raining out, my clothes are out on the line.

I don’t even use my dryer usually from May through the end of October, beginning of November.  I go through and take down all of my curtains, all of my throw rugs, all of the quilts that kind of go on the back of the chairs and couches for snuggling up time, and I get all of those washed and out on the line so that they’re all clean and ready to go for the holidays, and the winter months.

I LOVE to hear from you and want to make sure I’m sharing information YOU find helpful. Leave me a comment on what you’d like to hear and learn about on future episodes.

Want more old-fashioned tips and recipes? Grab my newest book Hand Made: the Modern Guide to Made-from-Scratch Living here


About the Author

Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.

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