Be Pre­pared

Should an­other Beast from the East strike some­time soon — or an even worse win­ter — Kevin Alviti has plenty of ad­vice on how to stock up and pre­pare

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

Get ready for win­ter, by Kevin Alviti

Last win­ter was a wake-up call for many and, with an­other hard win­ter pre­dicted, be­ing pre­pared for the worst is not some­thing to be taken lightly. Liv­ing on a small­hold­ing or a farm just in­creases the dif­fi­culty, of­ten with re­mote, ru­ral prop­er­ties cut off from towns and vil­lages. And with live­stock to look af­ter, any chance of lock­ing your­self away from the world and wait­ing for it all to blow over goes out the win­dow.

Get­ting ready for win­ter should be on ev­ery­one’s to-do list, and be­ing pre­pared be­fore the me­dia tries to scare ev­ery­one into the shops to panic buy milk and bread when a snowflake falls is key.

Work on hav­ing at least two weeks’ worth of food in the house. A good store cup­board of long life items that can be ro­tated in your nor­mal cook­ing is es­sen­tial. It is easy to keep more non­per­ish­able items that you use reg­u­larly in re­serve; things like tins of beans and toma­toes, bak­ing in­gre­di­ents and dry goods, such as rice or flour, be­ing good examples. Ro­tat­ing these items means that you will never waste any, but you will al­ways have some ex­tra in case of emer­gen­cies. My grand­mother used to have a cup­board full of su­gar, a throw­back from short­ages dur­ing the war, and it was a habit she had no in­ten­tion of break­ing.

Janet Fog­gie is a small­holder from Fife in Scot­land who tends to a large vegetable gar­den and keeps chick­ens and ducks on her two-acre patch. She says: “We al­ways have a meal-kist full of flour and rice. There must be 40kg in there at the mo­ment, so we know that we can al­ways make bread and stay well fed if we get cut off due to bad weather.” A meal-kist is a large chest in which food can safely be kept and which was a fea­ture of many crofts of the past.

The style of Janet’s house also helps when it comes to stock­ing up for win­ter. “It has stone built stores that take up a third of the foot­print, in­clud­ing a good tra­di­tional pantry and an­other store as well. Who­ever built it put a lot of ef­fort into stor­ing their food here and they knew that they could get cut off.”

Blog­ger Sky­eent is a small­holder who runs a small shop in Skye.

“We don’t tend to get cold win­ters up here, just wet and windy ones, but if it does get cold and the hill into the glen gets icy then sud­denly peo­ple start ap­pre­ci­at­ing the lo­cal shop,” she says. “It would be quite nice if they in­vested in it year round. Some­times I have to ra­tion bread and milk and de­liver to peo­ple who can’t get out of their drives. As well as the ob­vi­ous food and salt, there are can­dles, torches and lamps, bat­ter­ies, paraf­fin and gas bot­tles, coal, wood and kin­dling, camp­ing stoves and grip­pers for shoes, all of which we stock just in case. At home over Christ­mas, I found it con­ve­nient to keep food freez­ing out­side — free ex­tra cold stor­age space.”

The wa­ter co­nun­drum

Keep­ing drink­ing wa­ter in stock is also some­thing to con­sider. Hav­ing bottled wa­ter as an emer­gency backup won’t break the bank and if wa­ter pipes freeze it pre­vents small­hold­ers be­com­ing vic­tims who may have to be res­cued by the emer­gency ser­vices. Two litres per per­son per day is rec­om­mended for three days and, with bottled wa­ter so in­ex­pen­sive, for a fam­ily of five it works out at less than £ 3.

But pro­vid­ing drink­ing wa­ter for an­i­mals on a ru­ral prop­erty of­ten proves far harder than keep­ing the hu­man in­hab­i­tants hy­drated. Long-time small­hold­ers Paul and Sue Break­well live in Shrop­shire, but their an­i­mals — chick­ens, pigs and cat­tle — are kept a dis­tance from their home, which can make life dif­fi­cult.

“An­i­mals can, at a push, sur­vive a few days with­out food, but not very long with­out wa­ter,” says Paul. “Be­cause they are given plenty of hay, they need to drink even more wa­ter. When it shows signs of freez­ing, Sue fills up a few wa­ter butts and puts them among the bales, cov­er­ing them up for in­su­la­tion. That way, if the pipes or taps freeze, we have wa­ter al­ready in situ that we can use.”

Sven Bosley, who farms beef cat­tle and suck­ler cows on 101 acres in Here­ford­shire, says that get­ting wa­ter to his an­i­mals proves to be his big­gest headache. “Last year I ended up tak­ing them to the brook twice a day for a drink, putting up fences and mak­ing sure that they didn’t wan­der,” he says. “It was so time-con­sum­ing and some­thing you nor­mally take for granted and don’t even con­sider.”

Pipes may need to be in­su­lated, and Sven also has ex­pe­ri­ence of this. “Ev­ery time I do it, some lit­tle ver­min thinks that it will make nice ma­te­rial for a nest.”

Sven can re­mem­ber work­ing on a large farm in Ox­ford­shire dur­ing the hard win­ter of 1981/82.

“The killer was try­ing to thaw out wa­ter tanks for the cat­tle. I would go around the hold­ing with a propane bot­tle and a blow torch. I had to put a sack on my back to try to shield my­self and the tank from the wind as I at­tempted to thaw the ball­cock to get it to flow. You could be sure that within an hour of leav­ing and it fill­ing up, it would be frozen again.”

Janet Fog­gie has a way of get­ting wa­ter to her an­i­mals dur­ing the harsh­est of win­ters. “I keep my hosepipe reel in­side and roll it out to use each day. It’s heavy and awk­ward, but this way is much bet­ter than try­ing to de­frost pipes,” she says.

Get­ting in food for an­i­mals is ob­vi­ously a vi­tal con­sid­er­a­tion, bear­ing in mind that the hor­rific win­ter of 1963 could oc­cur again at some point.

“I work it out thanks to my years of ex­pe­ri­ence,” says Sven Bosley. “Just pray­ing you have enough won’t do the trick. I know how many an­i­mals I have and roughly what they eat, so I plan ac­cord­ingly. I buy all my for­age in in round bales, but some years the costs can be huge. My an­i­mals have ac­cess to the out­side all year and al­though it can cre­ate a mess, they seem hap­pier for it.”

Fo­rums and Face­book groups can be great for ask­ing ad­vice if you are strug­gling to work out how much fod­der you will need. Lo­cal farm­ers of­ten love to share their ad­vice and wis­dom on what you should keep in for the win­ter — es­pe­cially if they get to sell you some hay or straw in the process. And don’t over­look bed­ding, as keep­ing an­i­mals clean and dry in­side is an im­por­tant wel­fare is­sue too.

Me sec­ond

Many small­hold­ers think about their an­i­mals first and them­selves sec­ond — or hardly at all. But a small-scale farmer’s own well­be­ing is vi­tal. If you get sick, who is go­ing to take care of your an­i­mals, es­pe­cially if you live on an iso­lated hold­ing and find your­self cut off. There­fore, be­fore the on­slaught of win­ter en­sure that your pri­mary heat­ing source is well main­tained. Ser­vic­ing should be top of your win­ter check list. Run your boiler a few times in the sum­mer so that it doesn’t sit idly for months and then won’t fire up when a cold snap hits. Hav­ing a sec­ondary source of heat­ing and cook­ing is a use­ful backup. Many peo­ple don’t think of the con­se­quences of not hav­ing heat­ing should power sup­plies be cut, or if their heat­ing oil runs out.

Luck­ily, many coun­try homes have wood stoves, which are ideal as they can pro­vide

both heat and a means of cook­ing. If you don’t have one, a cheap camp­ing stove could prove in­valu­able in a cri­sis.

Keep­ing fuel ready for your wood stove isn’t al­ways straight­for­ward, how­ever, as Sven Bosley at­tests to: “Keep­ing enough wood is easy, but keep­ing enough dry wood is the dif­fi­cult part. I have plenty of wood, but dry and sea­soned is an­other mat­ter. I keep a backup bulk bag of wood that my wife doesn’t know about for when things get re­ally cold.”

Paul Break­well has a tra­di­tion to en­sure that he is well stocked for win­ter

“Each year, on the long­est day, I take a load of hay down to store near my an­i­mals and I bring back a load of wood. That way I’m pre­pared for the short­est day,” he notes.

How fa­cil­i­ties are set up on a small­hold­ing can also make life easy — or un­nec­es­sar­ily hard. Small­holder Janet Fog­gie got caught out last year.

“I moved my chick­ens around — away from the west­ward pre­vail­ing winds, but then the Beast from the East hit and I ended up dig­ging out my chick­ens ev­ery day. Even if it didn’t snow, it still blew and drifted in.”

Wardrobe mal­func­tion?

In the win­ter, mak­ing sure that you are dressed for what­ever the weather has to throw at you is vi­tally im­por­tant. A hole in Welling­ton boots is an in­con­ve­nience in the sum­mer, but it can be dan­ger­ous in the win­ter.

“I nor­mally buy a new pair of wellies be­fore win­ter, as there’s noth­ing worse than hav­ing a pair with lit­tle grip left on the bot­tom when you’re walk­ing on mud and ice,” says Sven.

Keep­ing a spare set that matches is a great cost sav­ing tip — that way you can just keep one boot if you rip or dam­age the other one of the pair.

Ve­hi­cles in­evitably pose prob­lems in the win­ter. Jump leads and a bat­tery charger top Sven’s list of must-haves. “You can guar­an­tee that a bat­tery will fail when you need it the most.”

If you have to travel, al­ways keep cer­tain items in your car. My wife has a ‘get home’ kit in her car that in­cludes things like a sleep­ing bag, wa­ter, food and a torch. These could prove in­valu­able were she to get

stranded, or they would make her more com­fort­able while she was wait­ing to be res­cued. How­ever, the fold­ing shovel given as a Christ­mas present last year didn’t go down as well as I thought it would.

With win­ter al­ready here, small­hold­ers should start to look at the es­sen­tials and whether — or not — they are pre­pared should the worst hit. Ask the ques­tion, what would I need if I was cut off for a pe­riod of time? And look back to past win­ters to see how you could bet­ter pre­pare for any­thing that comes your way. You will be glad that you did.

Farm­ing in win­ter is a se­ri­ous busi­ness, so it is good to in­tro­duce the fun fac­tor at times

If you have live­stock and bad weather hits, you will not be able to shut your­self away from the world un­til it all blows over

En­sur­ing that you have enough fod­der in stock to feed your an­i­mals if bad weather hits is es­sen­tial

Keep­ing a ‘get home’ kit in your car if you live in a ru­ral area is an ex­cel­lent idea

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