The Farm Report: Preparing For The Deep Freeze

      46 Comments on The Farm Report: Preparing For The Deep Freeze

I’m still working overtime on the programming project that’s had me swamped for past few weeks. I believe I’m finally close having this one licked. It’s been a blur of long days, seven days a week, but it’s all good. For the first time in years, the low-carb cruise is happening after the girls are finished with school, so we’ll all four be on board this year. (The girls are already jazzed about having their own cabin.) The overtime hours will cover the cruise and then some.

Today is officially a holiday, but I spent most of it programming. However, we also took some time to prepare for the deep freeze that’s due here in a couple of days.

I took the picture below late this morning. It looks like a dusting of snow in the picture, but it’s actually a layer of snow covered with a layer of sleet. We’re supposed to get more sleet, then more snow, then temperatures dropping to five below zero or so by Wednesday.

During our first winter on the farm, the temperature dropped to 17 degrees one night — and then our power went out. That’s when it occurred to us that we have electric heat and an electric stove. We had a fireplace, but no wood. We couldn’t cook and couldn’t keep the house warm until I went out the next day and bought a kerosene heater.

We took that lesson to heart. We now have the wood-burning stove shown in the picture above and plenty of wood in the barn. Alana and I hauled a load up to the house yesterday, and Sara and I hauled up two loads today. The driveway is a bit steep, but fortunately I was able to bang my boots into the sleet for a foothold as I pulled a garden cart full of wood behind me. If the driveway had been covered with ice, it would have meant taking the long way home: through the front pasture, across the bridge over the creek, then up through the front yard – which is also steep near the house.

We’ll be fine during the deep freeze, but we have livestock to worry about now – plus two big dogs and a cat. I’m told chickens can survive sub-zero temperatures, but I doubt they enjoy the experience. Chareva ran extension cords to both chicken houses and installed heat lamps.

She did likewise for the pigs. They’d probably survive a night of five degrees below zero, but we don’t want them staying alive by burning calories that are better used growing extra bacon. The male pig was outside the warm hoop house voluntarily, so I guess animals do indeed have a different sensation of cold than we do. The dogs were also playing tug-of-war outside today, even though they have access to a perfectly good sun room with a heat lamp.

The flaw in our keep-the-livestock-warm plan, of course, is the fact that the heat lamps all require electricity. If we lose power, I don’t think we can invite the hogs, chickens, dogs and cat to all sit near the wood-burning stove inside without a riot ending in carnage. It occurred to us last night that we should have added a gas-powered generator to our power-outage plans.

We figured on getting one today, but that’s obviously not going to happen. The roads are too dangerous to risk a drive into town. Almost nobody was driving on the highway that runs past our property today. The few cars I saw were moving so slowly, you’d swear they were driven by nuns. There was already a power outage in a different area of Franklin, which means everyone in that area probably snapped up the available generators.

So we’ll just hope the power stays on and the livestock stay warm. If the power goes out, we’ll hope they survive. If they don’t survive … well, I guess we’ll be storing a helluva lot of chicken and pork in our freezer.


46 thoughts on “The Farm Report: Preparing For The Deep Freeze

  1. Be

    I used to pine for a wood burning stove but think the smarter investment is a generator. Especially when you consider how much we’ve invested in our freezer meat. If it comes down to surviving based on living on trees, we are all doomed and I’m not sure I will want to survive let alone “prep” for it.

    Good luck with the livestock but they can tolerate more than you think.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I want both in the arsenal. If we ever have a long power outage because of an ice storm, we’d run out of gas for generator eventually.

    2. Barbara

      If it is really cold outside move the freezer meat to an ice chest outside. A trick my grandmother told me to help keep frozen foods frozen in a power outage is to freeze water in disposable milk/juice/whatever containers, store them in the freezer, when the power is out they help keep the freezer colder while waiting for the power to return.

  2. Jolly

    We have chickens in New Hampshire. As long as their door is closed, you don’t have to worry about them – or give them heat – until it’s about -25F.

  3. Cameron Hidalgo

    Have you considered buying a rope and hand winch? an icey drive might make it difficult to walk up with a cart, but it also makes it pretty easy to drag a cart up as well.

  4. Sharon Burress

    I am 72 years old and have been an observer of an interesting change in our culture over my lifetime. I lived on a beef farm in northern WV as a girl and my grandfather NEVER brought the livestock in, not even during the historic blizzard in the early 50s. He had a barn that had a big open door, but no source of heat. The cows did not seem to run for it during inclimate weather. It was a challenge to make sure they were fed because they couldn’t graze, they couldn’t get to the grass through all the feet of deep snow. I recall my daddy having to plow his way to the hay barn and get the hay bales to drop around the places in the pasture where the cattle were. They all lived.

  5. Kayla

    We live around the 52nd parallel,and it gets down to -40 around here at times during the winter. We have a 100ish year old hen house that’s pretty drafty (plus ventilated) for our 30 hens. 2 heat lamps keep them alive and laying all winter (oh, plus timed white light to encourage laying). We hang one fairly low in front of the nest boxes, and another above the roosts. Their feeding area is unheated but has a big south window (a newer addition). I’m not sure about hogs, but I imagine they put off a fair amount of heat. I’ve heard of farmers putting a cow in with the chickens (obviously in a larger structure) instead of artificial heat. Maybe in the future a combined hog/hen building?
    In the past we used to hang a heat lamp over the waterer in the hen house, then found a better design (since we need it for months at a time) with a big square chimney block and a light bulb to provide heat under the waterer. Works like a charm even in the really cold temperatures. It’s probably obvious, but you can also fill the waterer with hot water, which provides heat to the chickens as it dissipates and will stay ice free for several hours if you’re not dealing with -40 🙂

    1. Diane Morris

      If you do a combined hog/hen building, make sure you have a way of keeping them separate. My husband saw a hog grab and eat a chicken that got to close to it’s pen.

        1. Boundless

          Pigs are omnivores, just like you. And just as you are willing to eat them, they are happy to eat you. My wife knows of case here in KS where the farmer collapsed in the hog pen. With larger hogs, they might not wait until you collapse …

  6. Elenor

    Sending yah warm thoughts from the 21 degrees in Georgia! Weatherman keeps flipping between, it’s gonna go to FIVE, and it’s ‘only’ gonna go to ten… So much for global warming?

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Well, given the record-cold and record-snowfall winters in the past several years, they changed it to “climate change” to cover their asses and avoid embarrassment — such as the time the British Parliament held hearings on “global warming” just as snow was falling on London in October for first time in decades.

      By calling it “climate change” (because of course the climate has never changed before) it’s sort of like being allowed to go to Vegas and place a bet that the score at the end of the Super Bowl will be different from the score at the start of the game.

  7. Jeanne

    Driven by nuns, hah!
    My mother used to commute with 3 nuns and they scared the sh…t out of her!
    One day they were on the freeway, and one of them said “That young man who just passed us, (long haired) looks just like Our Lord!” The others dissagreed, so the nun driving sped up to 90, I think, to catch up, and they all craned their necks to look over and see this young man as they passed him, and they all agreed, “Yes, he does look just like Our Lord!” My mother was dying…

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Geez, one more reckless move and they could have met the real Lord.

      The nuns where I grew up had a well-deserved reputation for being sloooow drivers.

  8. Drew @ Willpower Is For Fat People

    First thing I thought when I saw those pictures was, “I’ll bet the foxes and other local predators are going to like the idea of a warm place to stay, too.”

    Then I wondered, would they really? Because I don’t actually know what livestock (and their predators) like in the winter. I wouldn’t go running power and buying hardware based on what I would like. I’d check with neighbors (real or virtual) who have actually been doing this for a while and see how they deal with cold.

  9. tony

    I never thought having a farm could be so complicated. There are so many intricacies and details. It’s like a full time job!

    I don’t know how you can handle the farm, take care of your family, work a full time job and write this blog.

    Keep up the good work.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      By myself, I couldn’t. Chareva is the main farm-hand, and I pitch in when I can on weekends. She flatters me into it by pointing out chores that require “man strength.”

  10. Frank

    Consider a propane generator, not gasoline. Gas
    doesn’t store well. No problem storing propane.

    Consider changing your kitchen stove (and maybe
    inside auxiliary heat) to propane, or at least have
    a propane camping stove or outside propane BBQ
    standing by. fs

  11. Devin

    Glad they were driving slowly. That’s the biggest mistake people who think they know how to drive in snow make– they fly thinking it proves their skill. But the real skill in safely driving on snowy, icy roads is to take it slow. Stay on the farm. Stay warm, stay safe! 🙂

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I haven’t left the property and don’t intend to until the ice melts. I grew up in Illinois and learned how to drive on snow and ice from the start. I don’t want to share icy roads with people who haven’t driven on them before.

  12. Joseph Shaughnessy

    We don’t have much problem with severe cold here in Central Florida. We do have occasional power loss, usually due to storms. Hurricanes give us longer power loss, but they don’t happen as often as people think. We went 20 years with no hurricanes in Central Florida and then had 5 in one year. (Kind of wrecked the average). In 2004, we had Charlie, Jean, Francis, etc. Many neighbors were buying generators. I made coffee on a gas grill for two mornings. In any event, here are some points about generators to consider. They take a lot of gas. This means you have to buy and store a lot of gas in advance. Gasoline goes bad over time, which means you have to manage your use of the stored gas during the time between events. (This means to use the stored gas in your car and refill the portable gas storage containers on a regular basis.)
    You get less power than you think from the generator. You certainly can’t run the A/C and heat in your house. You can run your refrigerator, portable fans and lights and cooking, but maybe not all at the same time. Some people were shutting off the main breaker into their house (to isolate yourself from the grid when power returns) and supplying the generator power into the breaker box by back feeding through their dryer power outlet. This powers the whole house through the breaker box circuitry, but still not enough juice to run everything at the same time. Check the wattage of the generator vs the wattage required from you appliances. We did have a helpful neighbor who had a generator and went around to other neighbors to plug in their refrigerators and freezers to keep them cold and then move on to anther house. Amazing how adversity draws people together.
    Anyway, it has been 10 years since our hurricane season and very few people still have generators in the garages and if they do, they certainly have not been rotating their gasoline supply. BTW, after the hurricane hits and causes power loss, that lack of electricity includes the pumps at the local gas stations. Meanwhile keep warm.

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I appreciate the tips. When we get one, it will mostly be to save our freezer full of meat in the summer, or keep the livestock warm in the winter.

    2. The Older Brother

      ” Some people were shutting off the main breaker into their house (to isolate yourself from the grid when power returns) and supplying the generator power into the breaker box by back feeding through their dryer power outlet.”

      Lord God, please don’t do this!

      All you have to do is have someone helpfully turn the main breaker back on while the generator is running and you may fry the nice power company man working on a pole down the block.

      They’ve got switches to install so you can’t run grid power and generator power at the same time.


    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      Talk about an agency gone amok. The EPA is apparently banning the sale and manufacture of stoves that don’t meet their standard, but I can’t tell from the article if it’s retroactive.

  13. Nicole Tracy

    I’m not usually a fan of heat lamps for the hens. Too many hen houses catch fire and you end up missing out on some great bbq. 😉

    1. Tom Naughton Post author

      I guess if you pulled them out of the henhouse at exactly the right time, you could just add sauce.


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