Shortening daylight, crisper morning air, frost coated grass, and the changing of the leaves undeniably signal the end of yet another grazing season, unless you have stockpiled some pasture. For most graziers, the livestock will shortly come in under cover for shelter and feed under green-up next spring. The end of the growing season also triggers the task of winding down field work, and putting equipment away for the winter. Just as with farm machinery, your grazing equipment – fencing and watering system components – should be winterized until you need them again in the spring. These tools that permit you to get the best forage quality out of your pastures are an investment, so taking care of them now ensures their long-term use over several seasons.
Here are five quick pointers to get you started:
1) Back off tension on high-tensile fencing.
This is important near public roads where heavy snow tends to pile up, and along woods that might shed large limbs or even an occasional tree. Reducing the lateral pull of the strands at the corners, ends, and gates diminishes the shifting of the posts during changes in ground conditions of freezing and thawing.
2) Unplug power cord of energizer from 115/230 VAC outlet.
Simply turning off the unit will not entirely guard it from surge coming into it from the utility side. Having a surge protector between the energizer plug and the outlet also helps, but unplugging completely eliminates the potential for damage. Although there isn’t much lightning during the winter months, surges can result from other issues on the utility side.
3) Store temporary/portable fencing material under cover.
The ultraviolet rays in sunlight cause deterioration of the plastic and resins used in electric twine/ribbon, plastic and fiberglass posts, and other products. Keeping them out of the weather extends their useful life considerably.
4) Shut off the water to your watering system.
While this seems intuitive, if not done it can quickly ruin your distribution network of pipes. The pressure generated at the supply end combined with the pressure of ice in the pipes can crack or break the pipes easily. Also drain the pipes if they are above the frostline to prevent ice from damaging them over the course of the winter.
5) Lengthen above ground plastic pipe as necessary.
Black polyethylene pipe has a relatively high thermal expansion/contraction coefficient. As an example, for a 1000-foot run there would be a change of almost 4 feet in length when the daily temperature changes by 40oF. This can cause pipe to separate at junctions or other fittings, so putting some slack in the line either by repositioning the pipe or adding extra footage in the pipe will prevent this from happening. If your pipe has separated during the grazing season, that’s a sure sign that there isn’t enough “give and take” in the line for temperature variations.
Of course, if you winter animals outside, and/or have freeze-proof watering systems, some of these tips won’t apply to your farm.