As winter fast approaches, the wise homesteader prepares. Having lived all my life in the frigid north, I have learned a thing or two about the realities of winter and the brutal war she can wage against man and beast. After 40 some odd years, I have found few things that make life more bearable and may just give you the upper hand in the battle against old man winter.
Stock Tank Heaters
Something as simple as a stock tank heater can save lots of time and aggravation. No one enjoys spending time, several times a day, breaking the ice on water tanks with an axe. Its hard work, you get yourself wet, and you risk cracking the tank. You also, slowly but surely, lose tank capacity as the ice on the sides builds up. This little add on is well worth the investment.
Here where I farm, a salamander type space heater is a must have tool. Ours runs on fuel oil, but you can choose the best fuel type for your needs. I have 125,000 BTU model and wouldn’t trade it for the world. When pipes get frozen this little beast can thaw them fast! When you have to work on something in the shop, this unit can heat the space to temperature above freezing. When the fuel system on a diesel tractor gels up I use a tarp and this unit to warm the machine up and liquefy the fuel again. When its -30 and all the water lines and drinking cups in the heifer barn freeze, I can run this heater for a few hours and make it like the Bahamas in there! After working outdoors for hours in minus temperatures I often sit in front of this thing on a 5 gallon pail and thaw myself out. This is some of the best money you could ever spend if you farm or homestead in the north.
If you have a diesel tractor, an engine block heater will save you much grief. I prefer a “circulating tank style” heater. These simple little tools will save you a lot of time and misery. No more running the battery down cranking that engine, hoping that it will start.
Any engines that need to be started in the winter should have their fuel tanks full and treated. Half full tanks will have condensation and lead to frozen lines and plugged up filters. All gas engines should have fuel treated with dry gas. All diesel fuel should be treated with anti-gel conditioner. Always have a bottle of Diesel 911 on hand. This treatment can de-gel fuel when you can’t get the salamander to the engine.
If you have livestock, you need water. You can melt snow or haul water for the house but keeping livestock watered means you need to keep the plumbing thawed. In areas where freezing is a problem, heat tape will keep it thawed and running as long as you have electricity to run it.
Proper Winter Clothing
If you spend lots of time outdoors, you owe it to yourself to have the proper clothing. Having farmed in northern NY and trapped in Alaska where I worked outdoors when it was -60 F, I have learned how to dress warm. The first rule is to dress in layers. The second rule is to be smart enough to take layers off when you start to sweat. Always have several pairs of gloves on your person, so they can be changed out when they get wet. When I am on the tractor or otherwise not needing my fingers, these are my choice for covering my hands. Wool socks are a must have item for keeping your feet warm. When I was an Alaskan trapper, “Bunny Boots” were my footwear of choice. They are the warmest boot ever made. In the lower 48 the these boots are my favorite. They are very warm and a little easier to walk in.
Winter can be hard on homesteaders and many a greenhorn has quit after his first one was a bad one. These simple tips, if you choose to try them, will give you a better than average chance of coming into spring with your sanity still intact.