Just a Dash of Prepper

Not that we are crazy. Well, we are. But not that we have school bus bunkers buried in the back 40. (Maybe that’s not so crazy…) But it seems to make sense that from time to time the power is going to go off. And there are things I could do to make that more manageable in the winter like having a wood-burning cook stove and something to eat…just in case.

And I have heard of people who go to work in the morning and come home that afternoon unemployed. Scary! So it seems to make sense to have a lump of cash laying around to help stretch us through lean times. And my resume up to date…just in case.

And sometimes, when you are minding your own business as you drive down the road, a tire on your car will express its mortality. So we maintain a spare tire in our car…just in case.

And when government falls, the dollar fails and we all stretch cow hides across our dune buggies and search the plains for petrol, I’m covered. I can make whiskey for barter in Bartertown. I just hope I have enough hair left to have a cool mohawk.

But did you see the recent pictures of Buffalo, NY? Windows pushed into houses by the weight of snow. Second story windows partially covered by snow.

What would I do? I mean, assuming I had advanced notice.

First things first. My parents would be trapped at their house for who knows how long. I would probably suggest that they come camp out here or at least bring a vehicle up here for easy access to the main road.

I would have the kids start bringing in firewood and lots of it. Not the cool fire, warm day stuff, the dense, hot oak or hedge. Just keep bringing it in. Power goes out we can still cook and we can melt snow for water. We also need to make sure all of the toilet buckets are clean and half-filled with fresh sawdust.

I need to make sure we have plenty of dog food for Reggie. We can manage without it for a few days but I would rather we didn’t have to. I’ll have to add that to a list or have an online retailer deliver it two days from now. Will the storm be here by then?

Otherwise we are ahead of the game here. There is plenty of meat in the freezer and canned goods in the cellar. Maybe a little short on wine…. The car is full of gas. We could just drive South to avoid the storm but we have livestock.

And that’s where I hit a brick wall.

Right now the chickens are in a hoop house. It would be no big deal to put a dozen bags of feed in there along with a barrel of water. Common sense, really. But the tricky part is not knowing how much snow it takes to collapse my hoop structure. What would 6 feet do? 6 feet of wet snow? 6 feet of wet snow and high winds? Will I hear it when the collapse kills my birds?

Same with the cattle. Six feet of snow is too much to graze through and it’s too much for my barn to hold up too. So now what?


Well, I guess I need to get the cows somewhere that is sheltered from the wind. Exposure will kill them faster than starvation. Do they need a roof over their heads or do they just need shelter from wind? I could line up a wall of bales on edge to protect them from wind AND give them feed at the same time And not have to worry that the collapsing barn will crush my cattle. So now I guess it’s just a matter of ensuring the cattle have plenty of bedding material and we can call it a day. Or maybe not. Let’s look at a few examples from around the world:

So now the good news. We don’t get snowfalls like that. A foot of snow is usually the upper limit in a 24 hour period. So this is just an exercise in thought. I really don’t know how we would handle it but I welcome your comments. It only gets worse after the snow gets here. Then it melts and floods the area. Tree limbs down, power outages, soupy ground, culverts washed out of roads and more cold coming. Cows washed away, pigs swimming downstream, dogs and cats living together, Mass Hysteria! Then think of all the babies born 9 months later…

It’s enough to make a guy want to be paranoid in town.

So. Anybody have any experience weathering livestock through a severe winter storm beyond what Pa did in the Little House books? Surely one of you Canadian readers…

16 thoughts on “Just a Dash of Prepper

  1. On the Canadian Prairies we are in awe of the 6’ of snow that NY got. We are used to snow and have snow tires, and removal equipment of all sorts but cannot deal with 6’ in such a short time period either. Two winters ago we broke our local snowfall record with close to 7’ I think over the entire winter. The winds wreak havoc with our snowfall where 2-4” of snow can blow into random 2’+ drifts your vehicle gets stuck in and with the roadside ditches all full of snow we had a constant mess on the highways and everywhere. Literally the City has snow dump areas just like garbage dumps and they were all full. Cold weather adds to our variable. Last wk we had –43C/-45F and my well house froze up – remedy a heater and light bulb down the 20’ cribbing. Usually that means 2 days w/o water till it thaws. That cold day the Pilsbury dough song of Nothing says loving like something from the oven was playing non stop on my head and my newest winter tip is don’t comment on blogs at frozen times like that as you end up saying off the cuff things like Nothing says loving like you dad buying a tractor that might not come out right!

    Surviving a snow storm is a bit like what they tell parents on an air flight- take care of your self first so you are able to take care of your children and in our cases livestock too. I am sure your weatherman tells you of pending doom. Step one is don’t be a hero and try to go to work as you might get snow-stayed (stuck in town as the highways are closed). Take a Snow Day(s) (like a sick day) and stay home and prepare. I would think you are pretty well suited for this – I thought you had a wood cook stove you showed us pics of this summer that you bought instead of a pond? Bring in firewood and yes when you think you have enough, bring in more and more as you may be heating your house with it too if the power goes out. Fill empty milk jugs with water in case you have well or power problems. You should have a supply of 5 gallon buckets on hand that preferably have not been used in your humanure system as you will use these to bring in snow to melt for water for drinking if your power goes out or your well freezes up. A 5-gallon bucket will melt down to about 3-5” of snow depending on how packed it is. Also can use these buckets to put food in from your freezer and fridge if power is out for a long time. Set the buckets outside and bring in before they freeze if items from the fridge. Empty ice cream buckets filled with snow or ice are also good to keep your fridge cold for less hardy foods like veggies. Not sure how much sale meat you have but you could do something similar in totes with lids. Your older house likely has a veggie stocked cold room in the bsmt? Pretend you are going on a 2 wk camping trip only it is in your house and hope it doesn’t last that long. Get all the laundry done so you don’t run out of dry socks and pre-make as many meals as you can in case the power goes out. If you got rid of your landline make sure your cell is charged along with your laptop and don’t waste your battery time if the power does go out. A month ago strong winds (and age?) snapped the huge 12” coil fuse that connects my main power pole and box to the overhead power line and I did not have power/water/heat for 7 hrs so you never know.

    Plug in the block heater on your vehicles if you have those and cold weather is expected. Park your Dad’s new tractor with front-end loader outside the door so you can get to it easily and often, along with jerry can’s of fuel as you might not be able to get out for a while if the roads are closed. That tractor will be your new best friend that you will spend many an hour with if you get 6’ of snow. Deep snow is hard to deal with so stay on top of it – clearing 6 – 12” of snow at a time is plenty making a wide path with each pass. (If the wind is blowing the snow in as you plow it out this might be n/a.) Might seem like a waste of time to go out multiple times put think of not doing it and having to deal with 6’ of snow – where do you start? Where do you push it to? Do you want one huge 10’ tall toboggan hill or smaller ones throughout the yard? Come up with a plan before you start keeping in mind that it all will melt at some point and gravity will cause the water to run with the lay of the land to the low spot across your road, to your barn or coral anything in it’s way and can make a mess on it’s way.

    Livestock I don’t know all your details. I would think your barn would stand a storm? In Canada roofs are engineered per the snow load in your area which boils down to the pitch of your roof and from the pics I have seen of yours you have plenty, the lean to roofs maybe not – you could buy a roof snow rake to remove the snow load and save those roofs. Or to spice things up, you just haven’t lived until you have stood in the raised bucket of your front-end loader with your trusty shovel in hand. The other snow load component is the spacing btwn your rafters to provide the strength to hold the weight. I don’t know what you have or what shape they are in but one thing that works in your favor a bit is your metal roof as the snow will likely slide off before it accumulates to 6’. Are your dad’s horses in that same barn? I think they are used to being inside so you would want to load their stalls up with a 2 day supply of hay along with water and big clean garbage cans full of snow in case the power goes out or you cannot get out to the barn.

    I would not trust your poultry in a hoop house for a major 6′ snowstorm – just seems like an accident waiting to happen. Does your new chicken tractor fit inside of the barn? If so I would load the birds in the c-tractor and put it in the barn and put out as much feed as you can, water and snow in lieu of water. I don’t know if birds would catch on to eating snow I would try to sprinkle grain on it and they will eat snow with the grain. Not ideal but I don’t think they would die of thirst. I don’t have birds so maybe SSF has some tips on that though she lives on a Cdn tropical island comparatively when it comes to winter 😉 If you keep your road to the barn cleared (of snow) hopefully you can get out there more often and would still have power and water?

    Cows if they are still confined to grazing cells – let them out – instinct is likely going to tell them what to do and they will seek shelter from the wind or put their back end into it. Getting wet is what is hard on them as it penetrates their coat so if you have snow mixed with rain give them a roof. If you have a 3-sided shelter to bed down or wood plank or tree wind break or stacked bales work well – straw works best as they don’t eat away their wind break – you would need more than one bale not sure how many cows and calves you have right now. Put out a round hay bale or 2 for them out of the wind if possible, close to the water. If you are expecting a lot of snow you would just cut the twine don’t spread it, as it will get buried. It is normal in a storm for livestock to huddle up out of the wind and often not eat that much during a storm. They will become crusted with snow but the dry air trapped in their longhair coat insulates a healthy animal from the cold.

    My horses live outside 24/7 throughout the winter. Horses can thermoregulate themselves and can stand their hair up (called piloerection similar to when a dog/cat raise their hackles on their necks or we get goose bumps) to increase the depth of their haircoat. Remember that before we domesicated livestock they have natural survival abilities. I have water for my horses but they generally just eat snow. Gabe Brown says the same about his cows – they have the choice but most do not come up for water. I don’t know what you have for wildlife in your area but I can tell you in my parts the deer, moose, antelope, coyotes, foxes and odd bear do not come up to farm yards for a drink every day they eat snow. Ditto with the birds that don’t fly south.

    If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em. Like everything in life, if your mind set is this is a disaster it will be a painful experience. Or you can go with it and make it an adventure with the kids – have an outdoor bonfire, roast weenies and marshmallows, make snow angels and snowmen and igloos. Pitch a tent indoors (a blanket tent works too) in the room with the wood stove if the power is out it will keep them warm huddled together too. If the power goes out close all the doors of unused rooms where there are no water lines to concentrate the heat in the necessary rooms and tell ghost stories in the dark!

    I don’t think I am telling you anything you don’t already know or do? It is good for you to figure out an emergency plan though just like a fire drill. Hopefully you never get the 6’ dump like NY but the weather is so extreme in recent years you never know!

  2. Tropical island huh? This must be a monsoon flooding my neighbour’s basement and turning my driveway into a river…:).

    Frankly, it strikes me that people who read blogs like this one are probably in a better position than many to weather the unexpected disaster potential of storms like the one that hit Buffalo. I mean, you’ve thought through most of the eventualities – like heat, firewood, etc.

    When I read the reports of the cattle losses in South Dakota, Wyoming, etc last year, what really came through was that they did have some notice that the storm was coming, and many ranchers took appropriate action, but had no control over the environmental factors like the fact that the cattle were rain soaked before it snowed, sheltered in places that should have been fine but weren’t because the ground wasn’t frozen. In many cases, the cattle were simply too far up the summer pastures to get them down in time (the storm happened in October). I guess the lesson learned there is that there is simply going to be some loss in a freak storm like that, no matter how prepared a farmer/rancher is.

    Kari’s excellent comment on solutions for livestock in snow storms makes some important points for me. One is that we need to make plans for being without power and also for not having ready access to the gas station for more fuel for tractors/trucks. It also strikes me that maintaining grazing livestock in this situation might be easier than looking after pigs and chickens. Graziers probably have already laid in a good supply of hay for the winter and can use it if necessary. Those with omnivores often get complacent about “just in time” feed supply.

    For people with pigs and poultry I would say that having plenty of feed on hand is of prime importance. Whether one buys feed by the ton to fill a grain bin, or by the sack in the back of the SUV, it’s all too easy to run low on feed even in good weather. Those who rely on the back door of produce departments or on whey delivery from a dairy for supplementing hog feed would do well to consider they won’t have access to this stuff if a storm happens. Hungry pigs are not happy pigs, ’nuff said. Chickens and pigs can eat some of our food, but we’re likely to be stingier about that if we’re not sure how long we’ll be socked in, or if our own supplies are low.

    I don’t have a lot of experience with extreme cold or snow with chickens. People I know on PEI (they get plenty of cold and snow), have their chicken house insulated, and they will use heat lamps if necessary. I gather they’re propane lamps, as power comes and goes with the storms. I know someone in southern Ontario (also cold) who lines her hen house with haybales (on the inside) to insulate it – it reduces the floor space by quite a bit, but her flock is small and they do OK, and do stay nice and snug. I don’t think she uses a heat lamp (I sure wouldn’t that close to all that hay). In both cases their birds are pretty much inside for the winter.

    I have the added consideration that I live on an Island – it may be big but it’s still separated from main supply lines by water, and connected only by ferry and air. We get a lot of wind storms in the winter, which can delay or cancel sailings and if we get a snow storm that can be worse. I’ve been caught once when the feed store didn’t get a shipment of feed, and I had to ration what I had for the chickens till I got word that their truck had made it across a day or two later. I only have 50 hens, I can just imagine what kind of stress this stuff would cause the guy with 3000 hens.

      • Freeze whatever you can use in 6 mths for baking – crack into ice cube trays to freeze then transfer to baggies … donate to the Food Bank and get a tax donation receipt …, will pigs eat frozen eggs or only boiled ones?

    • Good point about making sure you have enough feed on hand. That is a good idea about insulating with bales too. On the Prairies bales are commonly used along the outside of the skirting on house trailers to stop the waterlines from freezing up along with wrapping the pipes in electric heat tape. My neighbors have about 15-20 free range layers they over winter in a small bldg about the size of a double banger outhouse, plywood walls, no insulation just run a light bulb 24/7 and plenty of straw in the nest boxes. They have access to their outdoor run and go out a lot on sunny days they get used to the cold. My barn cats do fine with light bulb heat all winter long too – regular 60w old type of bulbs (not the new spiral mercury ones). No power- cats and dogs will hunker down in a bed of straw to stay warm as would most animals.

  3. Hmm. Never thought about eggs. That’s a lot of eggs. Good thing you don’t have 300 hens yet. Gives you time to work that one out. I guess you’d need more pigs if you’re going to feed the eggs to the pigs…and then you’d need more feed for the more pigs….

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s