Is your farm ready for winter?

Date published: 07 December 2017


The Met Office has issued a Yellow Warning for snow and ice, potentially over all of Northern Ireland, for Friday and Saturday (8th and 9th December). In addition, the North Coast may experience strong winds.

Even if we are spared severe weather on this occasion, now is the time to prepare your farm for a range of potential winter problems:

  • Frozen and burst pipes;
  • Snow;
  • Interruption of water supply;
  • Flooding;
  • Difficulty in moving materials or stock around the farm; or
  • Problems with deliveries to or collections from the farm.

Consider the main risk areas and work out how you would deal with severe weather and how it would affect your ability to provide water, food and shelter to your animals.

Keep a close eye on the weather forecast so that you are able to take appropriate action. Carefully consider whether you need to move animals to lower ground or fodder stocks to a more sheltered location. Will farm lanes become unsafe in the event of snow and ice? If so, consider the need for marker signs at the edges and/or alternative routes. Keep main access areas ice free / salted to avoid potential accidents that may involve humans, animals, or machinery.

If milk collections are suspended, have you extra storage capacity in place? If feed deliveries can’t get through, have you sufficient feed stored to cover your requirements for three days?

Clean water is an essential input on all farms but its supply may be interrupted by frozen or burst pipes. On dairy farms, livestock drinking water accounts for between 50% and 75% of all water usage with lactating dairy cows drinking around 100 litres per day. Water is also needed for cleaning/hygiene. Intensive pig and poultry units are very dependent on water supply and at significant risk from a welfare perspective if fresh water is not available. You should aim to have at least 24hrs of water stored.

Carefully consider and, where necessary, take action on the following points: 

  • Make sure you know the layout of pipes within your land. This should be recorded on a map.
  • Know where your stop valves are and make their location more obvious by marking them with one of NI Water’s free stop valve tags (available by contacting Waterline: Tel: 03457 440088; or email:
  • Have you isolated water supply to areas of the farm not used during winter? You may need to install new stop valves to make this possible.
  • Keep a supply of relevant fittings to repair any leakages.
  • Know where your meters are located and check them regularly. An unexpectedly high reading could indicate a leak and should be investigated.
  • Inspect troughs not in use at this time of year. Consider turning off the water supply and draining the trough. (A trough stop valve will enable the water to be stopped without having to do so at the meter.)
  • Ideally underground pipes should be buried at least 750 mm (2½ feet) below ground level.
  • Ensure any pipes within buildings are insulated and protected from livestock.
  • Ensure that all tanks, pipes and pumps are in good working order and not leaking. Fix dripping taps.
  • Have the name and contact details of at least one SNIPEF (Scotland & Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Federation) registered plumber easily available in case of an emergency.
  • Keeping farm watercourses clean will help ensure that water flows easily away following a thaw, thereby minimising the risk of flooding.

To report a water supply problem, contact NI Water: Tel: 03457 440088; or email:

Some time spent now, preparing your farm for the unexpected, could save you a lot of problems in the future.


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