What happens down on the farm during the winter months?

Norfolk in winter

People often ask what farmers do during the winter. Throughout the summer months, the sight of huge combine harvesters and straw balers make it pretty clear what the farmers and their workforce are doing. During the early part of autumn, the sugar beet harvesters and the trailer loads of carrot and potato are obvious clues. But what about the cold, dark days of November, December and January? Is that when the entire farming community up sticks and head for the winter sun?

At this point, a farmer would fall off his tractor seat in either amusement or horror. Firstly, everyone knows that farmers never stop work (or so they say), and secondly, farming really is a 365 days of the year vocation.

Here is a potted version of how a typical day on a farm would look in winter:

November

Much of the livestock is housed during November, which means extra time is spent feeding the animals, cleaning out sheds and ensuring plenty of water is available. If the weather is bitterly cold this could also mean de-frosting outside taps, water tanks and hosepipes. The more livestock on a farm, the longer is spent moving hay, straw and other feeds to the animals’ sheds.

Arable farmers will drill wheat until mid-way through November. Fertiliser will be applied to sugar beet fields and there will be a lot of ploughing going on, with the bright tractor lights breaking the dark skies until late into the evening in an effort to get the ground churned over before frosts set in.
With all the colour gone from the fields and hedgerows, this is when farms are at their greyest.

December

More ploughing, and now is also the time to spray cereal crops such as wheat and maize. This is also the time when any repairs to farm buildings or fencing is likely to take place. With the majority of the livestock now housed in the cattle, sheep or pig sheds, the farmer will inspect the grazing land, repair any broken fences, replace any that are beyond patch-ups and also clean out any outside feeders.

The livestock continues to need daily care – food, water and cleaning. Dairy farmers continue to milk the cows all year round, including Christmas day.

January

The fields around the farm get a bit smelly this time of year as this is when farmers will spread slurry (a semi-liquid manure) in preparation for silage or hay that will be taken later in the year. If there has been a frost making the ground harder, that is a good thing for this activity as the tractors can travel over the fields without sinking into the mud and getting stuck.

General farm maintenance continues as machinery is cleaned, repaired and prepared for the year ahead. Painting, repairing drains and general farm building maintenance also takes place at this time of the year.

There may be some early flowering crocuses adding a splash of colour to the landscape. January and February is often seen as the calm before the storm as farmers prepare for spring.