Small Farms Program Coordinator
Iowa State University Extension & Outreach
Fall brings with it pleasant temperatures, beautiful leaves and harvest season. It also brings with it the realization that the next season to arrive is winter. Completing fall chores around the acreage will help transition your small farm or acreage into winter.
If you own and care for livestock, fall is a great time to do a thorough cleaning of pens to spread or compost manure and re-bed for colder temperatures. While you are cleaning those areas, assess your livestock shelter itself. Does it need any repairs to help seal up any cracks or holes? Make those now. Insulation can be added to the most basic shelters, but it is a good idea to cover up insulation with plywood or fence panels to prevent livestock from chewing on and ingesting the insulation. Pay particular attention to areas where you may be kidding or lambing this winter. Are these areas secure from drafts with enough heat to get new lambs or goat kids off to a good start?
Double-check that fences are in good shape for winter. Chasing livestock back in is never a fun chore, but even less so when it is minus 10 outside. This is also a good time to plan for your winter food and water sources. Do you have a heated water source to keep fresh water for your animals? Do you need heat tape on an exterior hydrant? Or a heat block in your livestock waterer? Do you have enough quality hay for winter months? Purchasing all that you can store now for use in winter months is a good idea.
Fall is a good time to assess your home for repairs, too. Clean leaves from gutters to prevent a buildup of ice within downspouts. Unhook and store garden hoses. Seal any windows or cracks around your home to prevent cold drafts from entering your home. General cleanup outside is good practice in the fall. Clean up gardening beds and compost any residue. Properly dispose of or store any pesticides or fertilizers for the winter months.
Would your acreage benefit from using a snow fence? It is typically installed in the fall. Fences should be perpendicular to the prevailing wind. A good rule of thumb is to install a snow fence at least 80 feet back from the road or driveway you want to protect, preferably even 120 feet. For more information, visit our past article on snow fences at https://www.extension.iastate.edu/smallfarms/controlling-snow-drifts.
Moving snow on an acreage or small farm generally requires machinery. Fall is a great time for routine maintenance on those machines. Do you need to change oil in your tractor or skid loader? Is it time to replace the hydraulic fluid? Those tasks can be done prior to cold winter temps. Do you have a supply of gasoline or diesel to operate any machinery needed to move snow? Does your tractor require chains to help with traction? Putting those on in late fall is a good idea.
If you use a wood burning stove or a fireplace to help heat your home or shop, fall is a great time to make sure you have enough wood split and stored for easy access through the winter months. Wood for burning is typically cut and stored for a minimum of one year prior to burning. The ideal moisture content is less than 20%. Fresh cut wood has a moisture content above 50%, so is not ideal in your stove or fireplace. If at all possibly, cover your woodpile from rain and snow.
Cover crops can be sown in the fall months. Cover crops can help prevent soil erosion during the winter months, boost organic matter in the soil, provide some weed control and produce mulch for next year’s crop. In addition to traditional crop fields, cover crops are increasingly being used in vegetable production. For specific information on utilizing those crops in your system, including types and seeding rates, please visit this free publication from Iowa State University Extension and Outreach https://store.extension.iastate.edu/product/Cover-Crops-in-Vegetable-Production-Systems.
Creating an emergency plan for winter storms and storm damage is a great fall activity. The Center for Food Security and Public Health has developed a checklist of considerations for your farm in the event of a winter storm emergency. Winter storms and ice storms can damage our power supply. Thinking about how that affects your farm ahead of time is good practice. For more information, visit their site http://www.cfsph.iastate.edu/.
With a few fall chores tackled on the list, your acreage will be ready for the colder winter months.