Updated January 1, 1 . AmFam Team
Winter may seem like a perfect chance to put the brakes on and relax a bit, but as any farmer or rancher knows, work and chores don’t stop just because the winter weather has arrived. Jobs need to get done and repairs happen all year long. When it comes to working out in the cold, you probably know to dress for cold weather, but do you know how to work safely all winter long? Take a look at these tips to be sure you’ve all got a handle on staying safe whether you’re in the barn or out in the field.
Before you head outside, take a few minutes and be sure you grasp the details of the job you’ll be taking on. This way, you’re going to be prepared for the job by knowing how to dress and what gear to bring. Here are a few tips to help keep warm:
Layer up. Layers give you options as you begin to warm up while working. So, if you will be moving bales of hay by hand, it may be smart to have several layers on rather than just an inner and outer shell. That way as you get moving and begin to sweat, you can peel off layers to stay cool.
Hood and hat first. Remember that you’re going to be losing a lot of heat through your head in the extreme cold. Insulate first with a hat that covers the head and ears and then remember to put a jacket with a hood — one which will also protect your face. That way, when you begin to warm up, you can pull the hood down, lift up the hat’s ear flaps and finally pull the hat off if you need to.
Protect the hands from cold weather. Keep in mind that frostbite often occurs first on the fingers, toes and nose. If you will be out in the field working with animals, you may need water-resistant hand protection. Operating farm implements may also be harder with thick gloves or mittens that protect from the cold, so be sure to work carefully.
Get the boots right. You should think about getting a good pair of extreme cold weather boots. These boots come with options for both safety and warmth. To reduce the risk of injury to the foot, some insulated boots have toe protection, either in steel, nylon or carbon fiber. The non-steel options can be a better choice for a number of reasons. First, they’re more likely to return to their original shape if crushed, which can really help to free an injured foot from the boot. Secondly, these types of toe guards don’t conduct the cold as much as a steel-toed boot does, so your feet are likely to stay warmer.
Keep informed. When the weather changes during the winter, a forecast that once called for half an inch of rain can turn into sleet, ice and then several inches of snow if the temperature drops more than a few degrees. When the temperature is hovering around freezing and rain's expected, be sure you’re ready for anything. You may want to install a weather app on your smart phone in order to get alerts which will help you stay ahead of storms and changing weather.
Cold weather and safety gear. The winter months can make wearing safety gear tough, as you’re already geared up just to keep yourself warm. One good way to deal with this issue is to allow yourself more time to get ready, both for the weather and the task at hand. Make sure you’re wearing protective gear correctly before you head out into the field. This way, you’ll stay warm, safe and you’ll know that you’re going to be working safely.
As the winter months edge closer to the shortest days of the year in late December, daylight can get scarce. Here are a few key points for working during those months with limited light:
Have a backup lamp. Bring a flashlight or headlamp with you to get to and from your tasks around the farm. This way, if your project extends into the evening hours, you’re able to see where you’re walking and get back safely.
Start work early. Begin your projects just as the sun rises in order to get the most out of those valuable daytime hours. Daylight savings time is there for a reason, and you should use it wisely.
Know when to hold off. You may want to think twice about starting a project in high winds or when bad weather is in the forecast. Unlike the summer months, harsh winter weather poses other risks to you. Snow can collect on the rungs of ladders and heavy snowfall can keep you from seeing clearly and getting your work done safely. Better to wait until the weather clears and keep staff safe. Think about putting together a list of foul weather indoor jobs and tasking yourself with these chores when extreme winter storms are approaching.
Pack water and protein. In cold weather, the body has to work harder to keep the core warm than it does in the warmer stretches. This means that you’ll find that you need more food and water to get that job done. Bring along liquids and snacks rich in protein to keep fueled up when out in the cold.
Clearly mark ice hazards and roads. Snow can cover both the ground and thin layers of pond ice. If you’ll be working near bodies of water, take time before the snow arrives and place orange snow stakes along the border where the water meets the land. This way, once the winter sets in, you’ll know which areas to avoid. Also place stakes along access roads so that people know where to drive when several inches of fresh snow have fallen recently on the ground. Review more farm safety tips so you’ll be aware of other hazards on the farm, where they may be hiding and how to avoid them.
Working in winter on the farm or ranch often means working with livestock. As you move out to get work done, be sure that you tell others where you’ll be and when you’re due back. If you’ll be working near livestock, it’s a good idea to bring a two-way radio along in case you have questions or need help. here are a few more tips on livestock safety during the winter:
Know where the ice is. You should be aware that ice and slippery surfaces may be in areas where livestock dwell. Getting livestock on and off trailers is one more job that needs to be handled with care. Place sand on ramps and runs to reduce the risk of slipping.
Livestock feed and water supply issues. Feeding and watering livestock pose challenges that you’ll need to manage carefully. Keep the watering troughs from freezing by placing electric heating elements into the water on days when the weather is expected to drop below freezing. Also, it may be smart to place the troughs near an electrical source or you’ll need to safely run extension cords to the trough. Remember, electrical sources can pose a fire risk so be sure to check the cables for tears or frayed wiring.
Livestock and the extreme cold. Most livestock are adept at dealing with cold temps. But during times of extreme winter weather, animals with less fat like the sick, injured, very old or young may need a little more warmth to stay well. Prepare for this issue by installing a heating system during the warmer months of the year. Think about adding extra bedding to the stalls, and remember to replenish their feed and water more frequently, too.
Keep these tips in mind during the frigid winter months and you’ll likely be more productive and feel better when you’re out working in the harsh winter weather. And your livestock may stay healthier, too. After you’ve taken steps to help keep your farm safe, set aside some time and contact your agent (Opens in a new tab) to review your farm and ranch policies.