Winter can be costly for farms, as storms, wind and freezing temperatures have the potential to cause serious damage.

Aside from making farms unsafe, weather damage can cost substantial sums to put right. NFU Mutual’s property claims specialist Jonathan Rew-Dixon explains what farmers can do to prepare for the cold months ahead, and limit the risks of winter-related damage.

Water

Losing water supplies can be critical for many farm businesses, particularly those with livestock.

Basic measures such as fixing dripping taps to ensure that trickles of water do not freeze and completely block the pipe, and making sure pipes are properly insulated can help prevent problems from occurring in the first place. If something does go wrong, being able to minimise their impact is key.

“It’s worth making sure you know the layout or pipework on your land and keep a map of it so you know where to look if there is a problem,” says Jonathan.

“Also, identify where your stop valves are located, and ideally install a number of them to isolate water supplies in areas of the farm you don’t use during the winter.”

On livestock farms, farmers should inspect troughs and drain any that aren’t in use. If cattle are inside, turn off the supply to the trough at the meter, or install a stop valve for the field.

“Have a plan in place in case something does go wrong,” Jonathan adds. “Check if you’ve got adequate storage in case of a supply problem, have contact details of a plumber handy in case a pipe bursts, and have a list of people you can call in case you need help with taking care of livestock.”

Buildings

Before the cold weather kicks in, make sure that all of the farm’s buildings - including the farmhouse, livestock housing and equipment sheds - are properly prepared for winter.

Repair any roof leaks and check for loose tiles to make sure they won’t become dislodged by heavy rain or wind.

It could also be worth thinking about adding additional insulation, and making sure windows are properly sealed to keeping buildings warm.

“If we get heavy snowfall, farmers need to be wary of the risk of roofs collapsing,” says Jonathan.

“Before removing snow from buildings or carrying out repairs, farmers need to assess all the risks and take great care.”

If a building does collapse or partially collapses, no one should enter the building until a safety inspection is carried out.

Livestock and feed

Livestock can cope with low temperatures provided they have plenty of feed and access to water. Developing an emergency plan so you know where you can get emergency supplies from is key.

“If you haven't got adequate feed supplies, think about how you’ll maintain stocks during any severe weather, or when transport is disrupted,” says Jonathan. “In hard-to-reach areas it might be worth putting feed stocks in strategic locations.”

Similarly check you have sufficient stocks of bedding and keep as much straw under cover as you can.

Where possible, make plans with neighbouring farms to help come up with contingency arrangements, including identifying additional or alternative housing in case you can’t get stock off-farm.

Transport and access

Keeping vital access and exit points open is hugely important to make sure staff, delivery and collection vehicles and emergency services can reach your farm, and to make sure you can reach any livestock.

Make sure you have plenty of salt or grit to keep icy roads and pathways clear, and keep a stockpile if you’re worried about access issues - particularly on sloped yards.

Before you order things like feed, think about whether trucks will be able to get into your yard. If there is any risk of them getting stuck it could be worth finding alternative solutions such as getting temporary supplies via tractor and trailer.

Machinery

Giving your machinery some TLC now will help make sure that equipment is ready to go as soon as you need it - something which could be particularly important in the winter months.

Keep tractors in a shed when they’re not in use, and make sure they have adequate anti-freeze in the cooling system, as it can get diluted if it’s topped-up during the year.

“It’s also important to make sure batteries are fully-charged to cope with being started in freezing conditions, and to check your fuel lines as traces of water can freeze and block the flow,” says Jonathan.

To protect sprayers from being damaged, make sure that pumps are fully drained, remove pressure gauges and clean out and drain the sprayer and any hoses and pipes thoroughly.