Preparing farm for upcoming cold snap

Hello, everyone. It looks like we are going to have a prolonged period of exceptionally cold weather coming up next week. Some overnight lows may approach 0 degrees.

Freezing weather always is challenging on a farm or in your landscape, but temperatures that low pose a higher level of risk for plants and animals. 

Most of our plants will survive those low temperatures without too much concern, but some plants may be injured.

Woody perennials with developing flower buds are the most likely to be damaged and, unfortunately, you likely will not see any damage until bloom later this spring. Covering these plants may provide some protection from a drying wind, but will not likely protect them from the cold temperatures.

Among our commercial crops, pears, apples and especially peaches are prone to damage. 

When temperatures get as low as predicted next week, the biggest threat to the plants is actually dehydration. Temperatures below freezing cause the humidity to drop, which leads to dry air. Coupling dry air with wind exacerbates this issue. 

Plant cells contain a variety of compounds (like sugars) that act much like antifreeze in your car — these compounds lower the freezing temperature of the fluid in the cell. This helps prevent the formation of ice crystals that would puncture the plant cells and cause all the contents to leak out. If the cells are punctured and do leak, the leaking then causes dehydration of the cells and ultimately will lead to the death of a portion of the plant. 

If the snow that blanketed much of southern Ohio earlier this week made its way up here, that would have been beneficial. A 4-inch-to-6-inch layer of snow would provide insulation to low-lying plants. Although the air temperature may approach 0 degrees, under a layer of snow, the soil surface will likely hover around 30 to 32 degrees.

Most plants are taller than 6 inches, so it would seem this snow would not help them. However, freeze damage can still occur to the root crown (especially in grapes), and most of our winter cereal crops (wheat and barley) would be completely covered. A snow blanket may not stop freeze damage completely, but it will certainly help. 

I’ve been talking about plants, but the real concern with farms will be livestock, waterlines and keeping animals healthy with access to food and water. If you’ve ever had to chip ice out of a frozen waterer or fix a frozen pipe out in cold weather, you know what I am talking about. We know what is coming, so if you have been putting off any last-minute pipe insulating projects, you may want to tackle that soon. 

Wind shelters and access to a barn or some other relief from wind is recommended for all animals. You want to block the majority of the wind, but don’t forget that animals will still need fresh air, as stale air in a barn can lead to sickness.

In cold temperatures, cattle energy requirements can increase by 30%, so you also should be prepared to feed more during these cold temperatures to help keep your livestock warm.

Special attention will need to be given to older, sick and especially young animals. Blankets for horses, heat lamps for baby pigs and other measures may be necessary to help your livestock survive.

Good luck staying warm out there.

As always, OSU Extension Trumbull County is here to serve you during the pandemic. If you have questions about soil testing, plant disease, farm bill or generally anything about agriculture, give us a call. Our office is open on Monday and Thursday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but you can reach us anytime at 330-638-6783 or send me an email. We hope you all stay safe and healthy.

Submitted by Lee Beers, an OSU Extension Educator, can be reached by email, or by calling 330-638-6738.

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