Winter is perfect for thinking about working smarter, not harder on the farm. These homestead organization tips are key to success next year!
As our homesteads slow down for the winter, it is the best time to close things out, reflect on the past year, and plan for the new one. This focus on homestead organization is essential for having a bountiful season in the new year!
Listen to get Winter Homestead Organization Tips instead! Check out the Homesteaders of America Podcast!
Winter Homestead Organization & Preparation
Whether you’re a veteran homesteader, this is your first year homesteading, or you are thinking about dabbling into it, there are some things that you might want to think about while closing out your garden beds, livestock, and your homestead in general at the end of the year.
Some of these homestead organization tips are no-brainers but some things you may not have thought about.
Winter Garden Preparation
In the late fall, the weather is not super-duper cold yet, but it’s also not very warm either. The first thing that we really concentrate on then is the garden. We close out the garden and prepare it for next year. While that may sound contradictory, it is really important to do for homestead organization. Prepare now so your garden is ready to go when the weather breaks in the spring.
One of the things we do is clean out all of the garden beds and put down a nice thick layer of mulch. If you do that now it will break down and be ready for you in the springtime. It protects from soil runoff, shelters the soil life, suppresses weeds, and essentially creates really good fertilizer for your garden beds.
You can use silage tarps or generic black tarps to also combat all of the weeds you might encounter in the spring. Covering will kill weeds out in the next few months and then you don’t have as many weeds to combat in the spring and summer while you’re planting and harvesting. While it doesn’t have all the benefits of mulch, a silage tarp will also warm the soil faster in the spring so your seeds that depend on the warmth to germinate can be planted sooner.
If you have potential garden space you already know you’re going to dig up or put a no-dig garden next year, you’ve got to tarp that as soon as possible. This one simple thing is going to save you so much time, money, and energy. Tarping whatever space you know you’re going to have a garden in or you already have a garden in really does help you in the long run.
It’s just another way to work smarter, not harder this year!
Plan Next Year’s Garden
Just because veggies aren’t currently growing doesn’t mean that the garden work is over! Use these winter months to start planning the Spring garden. Think about the things that didn’t work well last year and decide what you can do to make those things better. Make a list of varieties that you want to plan, map your garden layout, and order seeds.
Homesteaders who raise livestock should be either preparing their livestock for winter or closing out their livestock areas at the end of the year. It is also important to prep honeybees for cold weather to give them a better chance of making it through.
Clean up Unused Livestock Areas
A lot of us are coming off of pastured poultry or pastured pigs. The freezers are full and we’re no longer working that aspect of our homestead. Unless you are overwintering egg layers, pigs, or livestock those areas need to be cleaned up, materials stored, and feeders and waterers scrubbed so everything is ready to go for the next batch in the spring.
Prepare Livestock Shelters for Cold Weather
Take some time before it gets too cold to prepare livestock shelters for winter. Chicken coops and barn stalls should be moisture and draft-free (as much as possible). If you can keep the wind and water out, then you should have no need for artificial heat sources.
Consider adding insulation to coops and stalls. There are lots of ways to insulate shelters so choose whatever works for you. I simply stack straw bales on the outside of my chicken coop to help keep warm air inside.
If you have open sides on your animal shelters, you may want to cover them with tarps or thick plastic sheeting (like greenhouse plastic) to keep drafts out.
It is also a good idea to use the deep litter method for bedding throughout the winter for additional heat (we will talk more about this a little further down).
Should Heat Lamps be Added to Shelters?
This is a debatable topic, but my answer is always “no”. Heat lamps pose too high of a fire risk to be worth it. A lamp doesn’t have to fall down to catch on fire. A water droplet splashed by an animal can cause the bulb to break and sometimes they just overheat with no outside cause.
There are several alternatives to heat lamps that you can use if you want an artificial heat source. I suggest insulating the animal shelters, keeping them draft- & moisture-free, and using the deep litter method instead of using supplemental heat.
Consider the Deep Bedding Method
If you will be overwintering stock, then you will want to consider using a deep litter method of bedding. Deep litter bedding is done by packing wood chips or straw and letting your livestock run around on it. Spreading more bedding material and packing it in layers every few days means you’re adding on more of that carbon. Deep litter bedding options can be wood chips, straw, shredded cardboard, or even organic matter like leaves from your yard. This essentially builds up its own little community of microbes and good stuff in there that creates warmth.
We like to do this inside of our chicken coop with pine pellets. We add on another layer of pine pellets (you can use the bedding of your choice) every few days, and stir it up every day so it doesn’t get stinky or nasty (unless you have waterfowl it could get a little tricky then.) It creates warmth in the coop as well as bugs in the coop floor so chickens can scratch around and get those bugs.
You can do this in your chicken run as well if you have a permanent one. You can actually fill that chicken run up every few days with some wood chips, straw, leaves, or other organic material. Be sure to keep that going and keep it moving kind of like a compost pile. Through the composting process, it will create heat your chickens can lay on if it snows and you don’t have a covered run. The snow will melt more quickly. And it also creates a habitat for bugs and plants. Use whole grain chicken feed to scatter around as scratch in the run. The seeds will actually sprout, even in the wintertime! You’ll have little sprouts on warm days that give a little extra nutritional boost to your chickens as well.
You can mimic this with pigs and cattle too, depending on how many cattle you have. Obviously, if you have a whole herd of cattle that’s not going to work as well, but if you are overwintering just a few cows in a barn set-up you can do that.
Pigs can easily be overwintered on deep bedding. Joel Salatin does this with his pigs on Polyface Farm. Jason Contreras from Sow the Land actually raised his pigs this past summer on deep bedding. So those are some set-ups to consider this year while closing out your livestock and getting set up for winter time.
Keep Livestock Waterers from Freezing
Water tanks, troughs, and bowls will inevitably freeze in the winter. However, there are a few different solutions that you could use to keep your livestock water in liquid form.
If you use a trough or stock tank, you can add an electric stock tank heater. You could purchase heated chicken waterers or heating elements to place under the waterers. Heated water bowls are very efficient as well. I have also placed a rubber pan filled with water inside a tire. The rubber helps to insulate and keeps the water a couple of degrees warmer.
It can be a little scary to go into the winter months with a hive full of bees. Honeybees thrive with warmth and lots of greenery & blossoms. The winter time does not provide either of those things. Take some time now to prepare your hive for the winter before it starts to get cold.
A fall hive inspection should take place before the weather drops below 50 degrees F. You will want to make sure that the colony has enough honey stored and that they aren’t infested with pests or diseases.
After the hive inspection, you can move on to prepping the beehive for the cold months ahead. Consider adding a metal mouse guard, a closed bottom board (if you were using a screened bottom), and you may even want to add a quilt box or wrap if the winter gets extremely cold in your region.
Stock Up on Livestock Supplies
If you are in an area with sleet, ice, snow, or a lot of rainfall you need to consider stocking up for your livestock this year.
Stock up on items such as:
- Flashlights or headlamps (get rechargeable ones so you don’t have to stock up on batteries as well!)
- Health care products for your livestock such as herbal care for pneumonia, cuts, and wound care, or even have a triage center set up in case your birds get cut on an icicle or something.
Have that stuff in place now before the weather gets really bad this winter so you aren’t going into the new year worried that you’re not prepared if anything happens and you need something in the middle of the winter.
Of course, preparing for winter on the homestead includes a water source as well. Make sure you’ve got those water heaters going or that you’re prepared to deal with frozen waterers. One of the best tips for people with smaller livestock is to bring your waterers inside during the night. This small step will prevent you from busting up ice in the morning. Alternatively, you can empty the waterers out at night when you close everything up and just fill them back up in the morning.
It is really important, especially if you live in a rural area, to always have a good amount of feed on hand because you never know when a winter storm might come and you need that extra feed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in that situation and learned the hard way. Besides having feed on hand if you pasture range and you’re in a place where it’s really snowy, you may still want your animals to get fresh pasture. Or if you have chickens and they’re always in a run but you’d like for them to get green grass but you’re not really sure how to do that, consider growing chicken and livestock fodder.
Livestock fodder is easy to grow! You can use wheat or barley seed. I prefer to use barley because it creates a thicker fodder. Regardless of what seeds you choose to use, lay the seeds in a shallow dish. Keep them wet, not soaking wet but moist, for several days up to two weeks. They will actually start sprouting if you have them under a grow light or even near a sunny window. They’ll spout and create lush mats of grass which are called fodder.
Give this fodder to your chickens, pigs, even your cows, and horses. You can give them to all of your livestock and the nice thing is that fodder has more nutrients in it than just general pasture because it’s a fresh, sprouted grain that creates a nutrient-dense young grass versus grass that’s been mowed down by livestock (or yourself) multiple times.
Learn more about growing fodder to supplement your livestock feed!
Stock Up on Emergency Supplies
You don’t have to go out and buy a ton of stuff to fill a bunker, but it is a good idea to prep for possible emergency situations. Heavy snow and ice can easily cause power outages so having these items on hand can be a big help.
First-Aid Kits for Humans & Livestock
Medications & herbal remedies, vet wrap, and wound care items are important to keep in stock for livestock.
Keep a first-aid kit for your family as well. Bandages, wound ointment, alcohol pads, peroxide, herbal remedies, and other basic medical items should keep you ready in case of accidents and emergencies.
Flashlights are useful all year round, but especially when there is a high chance of power outages. Waterproof flashlights ensure that you can have light inside or outside and in clear weather or rain.
Clean water is necessary, but not guaranteed especially in emergency situations. If you don’t already have a water filtration system, I recommend getting at least a travel-sized water filter straw or a water bottle with a filter inside. It is also a good idea to keep a couple of gallons (or more) of bottled water in case your pipes freeze.
A generator is a necessity especially if you have freezers full of food. A generator can save your frozen meats and keep your family warm in the case of a power outage.
Prepare the Home
We have now taken care of the garden and the animals, but let’s not forget about winterizing the house!
Take a few steps to weatherize your home. Add weather stripping to doors, add thicker curtains to keep heat in, seal gaps in windows & doors, and insulate pipes. When you know it is going to drop below 32 degrees F, you may want to leave faucets dripping to help prevent them from freezing.
Clean & Organize the Pantry
Winter is the perfect time to get the pantry cleaned and organized! Wipe off dusty jars, rotate canned goods, label containers if needed, toss food that has gone bad into the compost, dust the shelves, etc.
Taking Stock: Homestead Inventory
The slow days of winter may be the best time for you to do a pantry inventory, freezer inventory, seed inventory, even an herbal inventory if you are a natural living homesteader with an apothecary.
Make your homestead organization easier with our inventory worksheets in the Homestead Management Printables pack!
The herbal inventory may be best done in August or September, but better late than never! You can do it now and make sure you’re prepped and ready to go for winter illnesses.
If you live in an area where you really don’t get a lot of snowfall or cold air you may not think you need to worry about the pantry inventory as much, but inventory is really something everyone should keep track of, especially if you’re homesteading with the goal to be frugal. Have a system in place where you don’t have to go to the store as often!
Especially as we go into another cold and flu season, it’s wise to know where you stand with things and make sure you’re just stocked up on everything you need.
Homestead Organization: Keeping Records
Now is the time we all need to start thinking about the dreaded word, “taxes.” If you own a homestead farm business or write your farming expenses off on your taxes these are all things you need to start thinking about. Having paperwork, financial worksheets, and expenses in order as early as November isn’t too soon. That way you’re not scrambling in December and January to get it done. That time can be spent dreaming, planning, and paper gardening.
On our homestead, I start planning those weeks ahead of time to help me be more consistent and know what I need to bring to the table. If I’ve lost something like a receipt for an expense it gives me time to go back and either print off a new one or ask the company for another receipt.
As you go through your expenses in preparation for your taxes it helps you reevaluate your financial goals for the new year. You can head into it with a really solid financial plan in place. Even if it’s just for your farm in general, even if you don’t own a farm business, be sure to have financial goals in place now. A lot of people like to wait until January 1st to do it, but a really good budget and a really good system start on January 1st… not sometime in January but on January 1st.
The Homestead Journal Planner will greatly help you with your finances! Whether you own a business or you’re just running your farm, our planner will help you break down your financials, expenses, and income. You can easily see step-by-step what you’ve monetarily brought in and sent out this year.
Of course, while you don’t need a planner, it does simplify homestead record keeping. Your system could be something as simple as just putting a spreadsheet together or creating a Homestead Management Binder using the Homestead Management Printables or Homestead Business Planner.
Regardless of which tools you use to keep your homestead organized, it is so important for you to know what your financial situation is. In the long run, you may be spending money that you really don’t need to be spending.
Or perhaps you could prioritize your homestead spending a little bit differently. This is essential on any successful farm because farming isn’t cheap and any way you could evaluate your financial situation is beneficial.
Likewise, it’s good to know where you’re saving money. If you’re like me, my husband thought chickens were a waste of time and money because they don’t lay eggs in the wintertime. But when we started treating eggs seasonally, like vegetables, and freezing eggs or having egg layers that lay all year long (Icelandic chickens are really good for that and something I’m considering bringing on next year) things changed.
When you choose different things or change your mindset to think seasonally, you can change your income. (Because eggs are technically an income even though it’s not monetary.)
But better yet when I kept an egg tally sheet, available in the planner or printables, I kept track of every single egg we brought in, every single day. And I realized that if I bought these as non-GMO, organic eggs at the store I would be spending hundreds of dollars more than just raising them myself. By simply keeping better homestead records we have discovered ways we actually are saving money by growing our own food and ways that we aren’t. So it’s good to look at that now, before the new year begins, rather than waiting until later.
Another thing to think about is writing down important notes from this year before you really start planning the next year.
This is something you should be doing all year long. You really need to be writing down important things. Let’s look at the breeding schedules of livestock. Record things such as how did the birth go, what happened when that cow calved, was it successful, was it easy, was it long and drawn out, or unsuccessful…
Or reflect on how your garden this year. What happened that you need to change for next year? What the weather was like? Record your observations in your journal.
Even if you didn’t take notes at all this year, just sit down right now or in the next few days, take a notebook and just write things down. Brain dump everything you know you need to remember from this year in regard to livestock, gardening, and food preservation. This could extend to home life in general including health care and herbalism such as which things worked and things that didn’t.
Brain-dumping it and writing it all down now helps you really prepare for the following year. And if we do this consistently over the years it helps us go back and evaluate our choices or make better decisions in the future.
Let’s say that 2025 starts looking like 2020 in the garden. Well if I made those notes and wrote everything down in 2020, in 2025 I can look back and say well this is what worked and didn’t work in 2020 and form a better plan of attack. I can see the weather is going to be the same so let’s tailor our garden season to this.
Successful homesteading, hobby farming, and for-profit farming are really, truly based on journaling and keeping a good list of records including notes right down to the weather. It not only helps you plan out the new year but also helps you in the middle of the year to look back and say, “Oh this is what happened so we can expect this,” or “We can project that with finances.”
Other Reasons to Keep Homestead Organization Records
- Many of the day-to-day details on the farm aren’t information most of us are going to be able to retain from year to year. Keeping homesteading records allows you to keep track of important information you may otherwise forget.
- Homestead records allow you to track and compare disease and pest resistance, yields in varieties of vegetables in the garden; the laying rate of chicken breeds; and the conversion rate on a new feed you’re trialing.
- Track livestock health and productivity to make informed decisions in the future.
- Have fun and be productive when you use your journal and records to set goals and see how far you’ve come.
Closing out your garden and livestock, considering your feed & water needs for winter, being prepared with extra resources such as first aid kits for man and beast, and getting a record-keeping system in place are all just the scratching of the surface of things you should think about closing out your homestead this year. These are things I’m thinking about now. If you have a business that’s definitely something you need to be on top of and getting ready for, especially with your financials.
So let’s work smarter not harder in the new year! I think you’ll find that having a system for homestead organization will really help you start finding rest as you go into January for those few weeks before you start seeds. You can start fresh and have it all together and feel a little more organized.