Preparing for Springtime on the Farm, By Kevin Janni, University of Minnesota Extension Agricultural Engineer

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After a winter of snow and ice, farmers should consider where the snowmelt will go and how it could make farm operations difficult in the spring.

Early snowmelt and spring rains can run across frozen ground, gather in low spots and create flooded areas. Melting snow can flood buildings, feed and bedding storage areas in low areas, which can damage feeds, bedding or equipment.

It can be hard on both animals and equipment to go through flooded roads or lanes. Refreezing can convert flooded lanes into slippery ice-covered areas that can give way as equipment or animals go over them.

Animal exercise lots or outdoor feeding areas can also become messy with snowmelt running across or gathering. Feedlot runoff needs to be managed properly to prevent contaminating surface waters. It is also important to prevent snowmelt from entering in-ground manure storage pits or basins.

After snowfall actions

Here are three actions to take after snow has fallen and before spring snowmelt begins.

Remove deep snow

Plow or scrape snow off to the side of outdoor exercise lots, feeding areas and heavy traffic lanes. Avoid pushing uphill of outdoor lots, feeding areas and traffic lanes. This will reduce snowmelt that is in — or drains through — the lot or feeding area. Avoid removing manure or wasted feed with the snow unless it will be land applied properly to cropland.

Pile snow strategically

Carefully consider where you place snow when you move it around the farm. Locate piles so snowmelt will drain away from animal lots or traffic lanes rather than through them.

Check covers on manure storage pits and basins

Ensure pump-out covers on deep manure pits are properly seated so snow and roof runoff do not drain into the pit. Adding snowmelt and rain runoff to a manure storage facility reduces manure storage capacity and adds to land application costs.

Before winter actions

Here are actions to take before winter to help avoid future snowmelt problems.

Divert drainage

In the spring, take a good look at the overall farmstead drainage pattern. If other parts of your property drain through the animal yards, feed storage areas, or high traffic areas, regrade the slope or add shallow diversion ditches so runoff water flows around the areas you want to protect.

Manage roof runoff

On some farms, water runs off the barn roof into animal lots. A shallow trench or ditch beneath the overhang can help direct this water out of the yard. Better yet, install gutters and downspouts that empty away from the animal lot. Also, grade the ground around farm buildings to slope away from the building. This helps move snowmelt and rain runoff away from the building and its contents.

Add a pad or use geotextile fabrics

Concrete or all-weather geotextile pads along feed bunks and around waterers can help eating and drinking animals stay high and dry. Make pads 10 to 12 feet wide for best results. Geotextile fabrics can also be added to traffic lanes to improve stability. Pads at the entrances to outdoor feed storage areas and machine sheds can be helpful, too. For more information on geotextile pads and lanes, see https://z.umn.edu/GeotextilePadsLanes from Iowa State University.

Raise your grade

Another long-term solution is to avoid placing buildings, feed and bedding storage in low areas. And grade animal yards and the farmstead to provide continuous drainage away from the animals, feed storage, and high traffic areas. A 4 to 6 percent slope is recommended.

Prepare for next winter

Build a structure to withstand snow loads

One preventive measure is to build a structure that is properly designed and constructed to meet or exceed expected snow loads from winter storms.

  • Buildings can be designed based on the amount of snow expected from storms once in 25, 50 or more years.
  • The roof snow load for residential buildings in Minnesota is set by state statutes and is 42 pounds per square foot (psf) in northern Minnesota and 35 psf in southern Minnesota.

Agricultural buildings can be built with lower snow load design values because the building importance for agricultural buildings can be set lower than for residential buildings. Many agricultural buildings are built using a 20 psf snow load which would be expected to handle four feet of dry snow or two feet of wet, heavy snow and ice.

Some people combine the snow load with the building dead load (i.e., weight of the roofing and trusses). Be clear when talking with your building designer.

Plant snow fences or tree shelterbelts

Effective snow fences or tree shelterbelts upwind of farmsteads and agricultural buildings can help you avoid excessive snow on building roofs.

Proper snow fence design and location is important for protecting a building or farmstead. Some building roofs have failed in the past because the buildings were located too close to shelterbelts or windbreaks, which resulted in large snow drifts on top of these buildings.

Remember that, when placing a 50 percent solid snow fence or tree windbreak, snow will be deposited downwind a distance of up to 10 times the shelter belt or snow fence height.

  • An 85 percent solid fence deposits the snow within a distance of about four times the fence height.
  • Porous snow fences distribute the snow more evenly and give better protection downwind than a solid fence.

Leaving an area for snow to accumulate is very important when locating a machine shed or livestock building downwind from a shelterbelt. If the building is too close, it will be within this snow drop area. If too far from the windbreak, it will be outside of the wind “protection” zone.

Learn more about windbreak and living snow fence construction plans, species selection and available resources from educators Gary Wyatt and Diomy Zamora on the UMN Extension website at https://extension.umn.edu/agroforestry/windbreaks. Windbreaks integrate woody plants and crops for greater and more diversified use of resources.

  • Both the woody and crop components of windbreaks can provide economic benefits.
  • Purposes of windbreaks include: wind protection, controlling blowing and drifting snow, wildlife habitat establishment, energy saving, living screens, odor abatement and more.

Windbreaks are plantings of single or multiple rows of trees or shrubs that are established for one or more environmental purposes. They gained popularity in America during the droughts and soil erosion of the Dust Bowl in the 1930s. Projects, such as those by the Civilian Conservation Corps, planted windbreaks to reduce soil erosion on farmland. The effectiveness of a windbreak depends on suitable tree and shrub selection as well as planting density and spacing. The website provides information on tree and shrub species to consider in Minnesota windbreak plantings and a list of resources for technical and financial assistance.