Power Outages in Winter

12-21 power outage

Winter is always a tough time of year on the farm. Blizzards and Polar Vortex’s make hard work even harder. Being prepared for the worst is one of the best options to working smarter, not harder, in winter. Storms or strong winds can knock out power, which will create problems fast on any operation. Continue reading for some hints on how to best help yourself in this situation.


Generators are very helpful to have during a power outage. It can keep your operation running (literally!) so productivity isn’t lost. Ventilation, milk handling equipment, feeding systems, and heat or refrigeration systems all run on electricity. If they can stay active during a power outage (even partially) it will prevent significant loss.

There are two types of generators: Engine Driven and Tractor Driven. Engine driven generators are sold with an engine included that has a manual or automatic start. They are large machines that are usually mounted somewhere permanently. These offer great benefits such as fuel efficiency, ability to run for a long period of time, low noise level, and a quick start up. However, they are quite costly on the initial purchase.

Tractor Driven generators are powered from the PTO shaft of a tractor. These offer lower initial cost and less maintenance than engine driven generators. However, they create more noise, and the output they offer is limited. It also takes a while to start up.

No matter what kind of generator you choose, make sure to follow instructions for maintenance. It is also helpful to run it a couple times a year. Change the fuel every few months if needed to prevent condensation in the fuel tank. Keeping the generator clean from dust and grime will also help it run better.


Losing electricity means a limited water supply. Shut off the water at the main valve. Turn off the water heater to your system as well (without water in the system to heat, it could generate an explosion). Collect water from the faucets in the house to use while power is out.

Insulating pipes is a good idea for cold winters. This will help prevent pipes from freezing, especially during a power outage. Opening cabinets to expose pipes to warmer air will help prevent freezing. If pipes do freeze, warm them up with a blow dryer, heat lamp, or heater. Never use boiling water or anything with an open flame.

Animals still need water during a power outage as well. If you are lucky enough to have a drive pump, that can work with the generator. Otherwise, water will have to be manually hauled to animals. Water also has to be kept warm enough so it doesn’t freeze over. If there is an outside water source available, have cattle go out to it provided it isn’t frozen over. Make sure they are on an area of land with good footing, and plenty of windbreaks.


When the power goes out, electrical items should be unplugged or turned off so when the power comes back, the system doesn’t overload and trip.

Operations that normally run on electricity will need to be performed in other ways (manually or via generator). Camp stoves can be a temporary heat source for barns. Make sure the barn is still ventilated well. Keep vents open and clear of snow. You may want to close the barn up tight to preserve heat, but that could potentially suffocate the animals.

Whether power is on or off, animals still need to eat. In winter, they require more feed than normal just to keep their bodies warm and functioning normally. However your feeding system runs, precautions need to be taken to make sure this process will continue as normal.

If milk storage is refrigerated, and you don’t have a generator to help keep things running, you have a couple options for your operation. You can call and ask for a pick up as soon as possible. The tank should be checked for souring each time more milk is added. This could prevent losing all of the milk produced instead of just some of it.


“Winter Power Failure on the Farm.” University of Wisconsin – Extension

Gay, Susan W. “Standby Electric Generators for Emergency Farm Use.” – Virginia Cooperative Extension

Protecting Plumbing During a Winter Storm.” – University of Wisconsin – Extension

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