Whether your barn is big or small, an old wood barn or new pole barn its time to get it ready for winter. Taking care of a few things now will help keep things comfortable and safe later.
Start with a good cleaning and straightening. Get rid of feed bags, papers and assorted junk. Less stuff lying around means fewer places for mice and rats to hide. Space is at a premium during winter so make sure you are storing only necessary things. Clean out stalls and cages and get them ready for winter guests if they have been idle. Sweep floors and ensure that there are safe, clear paths through the barn. You’ll want to check the light bulbs and dust them or replace them.
Tools should be cleaned, oiled and hung up or stored neatly. Check outside around the barn and in the yard for misplaced tools and bring them home. Mowers and other gas powered equipment should be drained of gas- especially if brought into barns where hay or bedding is stored. If they aren’t drained add gas stabilizer to the gas tank.
Clean and oil tack and animal equipment. Find secure storage places for items that won’t be used in the winter. Get horse blankets washed and dried. If you will need heat lamps for lambing or other uses during the winter check the cords to be sure they are not frayed and buy some bulbs.
Drain hoses and store them. Turn off the water and drain pipes to outside faucets that are not frost proof. Install heaters in water tanks if you use them. Replace cheap plastic or glass water dishes with metal, rubber, or heavy duty plastic ones. Fountain type water containers do not work well in winter.
Put out rat poison in safe bait boxes or set up traps. Rats and mice move into barns and consume huge quantities of feed during the winter. Store feed in metal containers and keep spilled feed picked up. Discourage opossums and coons from finding winter shelter in the barn also. They carry diseases and also contaminate and eat feed.
Close windows if they are open and cover windows with plastic if the windows are broken or gone. Oil door hinges and make sure doors work. Barns should not be closed up too tightly if you have animals in them. Moisture and ammonia in the air will cause respiratory problems. But you and the animals will be more comfortable if major drafts are plugged and drafts down close to the floor eliminated. Just don’t sheath the barn in plastic or try to make the barn air tight.
If you haven’t brought in hay and bedding for animals try to get it done before the snow falls. It’s much harder to move such items in deep snow. Your outside pets should have dry shelters that you have filled with clean straw. Check doghouses and rabbit cages to see if they need repairs to keep animals comfortable.
Cattle, sheep and horses with their winter coats don’t need elaborate winter shelter. They should have a roof to keep rain off them and a windbreak on the north and west. A 3-sided shed is usually enough. You’ll probably want to confine them close to the barn or house where it’s easy to feed and water them during the winter.
Goats, hogs and clipped horses need somewhat better winter shelter that is draft free and dry such as an enclosed barn. That doesn’t mean they can’t be out part of the time but should be able to move into shelter when they get uncomfortable or you should be around to move them inside. For large animals kept in stalls wood shavings or sawdust make better bedding than straw.
Poultry are usually penned inside once snow falls. They don’t have to have heated shelters, as long as they have access to unfrozen water at least twice a day. Perches up off the ground are advised for most birds, for ducks and heavy birds that can’t perch use deep loose bedding on the floor. If you do heat the shelter its best not to warm the shelter over 40 degrees. Too much moisture and ammonia build up will occur if shelters are heated too much.
If you want to keep hens laying through the winter you need to provide good strong light for at least 14 hours a day in their winter quarters. If your barns don’t have good windows all animals will appreciate the same sort of lighting. Use an inexpensive timer to make sure lights are on a regular schedule. You can use the new screw in fluorescent bulbs to save money but be aware they take longer to come to full brightness in cold weather.
Because of all the lighting, use of heat lamps and heaters, and animals spending more time confined and bored, winter is a prime time for barn fires. Make sure electric cords are where animals can’t chew on them and heat lamps and heaters can’t be pulled down or knocked over. Use extreme care with heat lamps and heaters around hay, straw and other bedding. Remote sounding smoke alarms are available so you can be alerted in the house if a fire breaks out in the barn. Or you can use a baby monitor to hear regular smoke alarms, but you will hear other things too. All barns should have fire extinguishers by each door.
You may want to put up snow fence or windbreaks along the path from the house to the barn and around entrances animals come and go from. And bring the snow shovel to the house so you can shovel your way to the barn. A little planning and preparing before winter hits makes working through it much easier.