Last week a new rural resident asked me what farmers and ranchers do in the winter other than feed and care for animals. The question leads to a complex set of answers, which vary with each operation but have some common recommendations for most rural residents.

Winterizing is always the first process in the fall. This effort includes making sure suitable amounts of stored feed are ready, draining sprinklers and water tanks not used in winter, installing tank heaters and doing a thorough safety walk around your property to address issues before snow cover lands, cold sets in and the wind rises.

During the spring and summer months most agriculture producers and rural residents use their equipment hard, and only do suitable repairs to get through those busy seasons. In fall and winter there is occasionally some time to conduct some preventive maintenance, upgrade tires, get lubrication service done and evaluate needs for equipment replacement. This is a time to get out your grease gun and oil can to keep things running. On many pieces of agricultural equipment there are parts to repair, welding to be done and tuning to conduct. Changing oil, gear lube and all filters applies to all equipment from chain saws to tractors. Mowers, small tractors, pumps, rototillers and other equipment often get overlooked until spring. Sharpening chainsaw chains and axes can benefit time and safety first thing in the fall. It never hurts to paint worn parts to prevent rusting over the winter. I am as guilty as anyone about forgetting to service my rototiller in the winter. And I regret to say our tractor-mounted snowblower usually provides some nasty reminders on my maintenance lack at the most inopportune times such as halfway down the road in a 3-foot snowdrift. Consider making a list of the equipment you have, what parts and lubricants you need and then setting up a personal schedule that does not wear you out but gets gear in shape before you need it.

Rural residents in the know also use fall and winter to evaluate their budgets and tax records.

This can assist in making more concrete plans for the spring. Conducting effective cost-benefit analysis operations, analyzing feed costs and projecting next year’s needs can help you have productive discussions with your team, your advisors and your lenders. UW Extension has a number of resources that can assist in some of this analysis.

The cold season is also an opportunity to take some time to revisit goals and update them for the next year. Remember that it helps to have all parties in your operation or on your property be engaged in the discussion.

The “slow” season (when we spend hours in the cold feeding and calving/lambing) is also when most rural residents have an opportunity to socialize with family and peers. Many of the agriculture production organizations have significant events between October and February to join together to discuss rural issues and celebrate with other residents on survival of another year. Rural residents and especially agriculture producers tend to be independent, durable and eternal optimists. It is very common to hear the phrase “well, maybe next year if…” at these gatherings. That’s what keeps this 1 percent of our population feeding the majority of our country and parts of the world. Needless to say, these events have some of the best cooking available, but I really enjoy the Homemakers, Stockwomen and Quilt Guild events, where the food excels.

The simple answer to the first question is that many rural residents and almost all agriculture producers work as hard in the winter as they do during the growing season. It is just focused on repairs, maintenance and family. Think about gearing up your winter preparations and joining in with some of the celebrations. Be part of the community.

Rural residents and especially agriculture producers tend to be independent, durable and eternal optimists.
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