Whether you’re mucking stalls or digging potatoes, having the right farm footwear can keep you safe, dry and efficient—whatever the day’s tasks throw at you.
Mud can create an unsafe situation for anyone without proper traction, and a pair of rubber-coated boots that can be hosed down quickly after each wear can be the difference between getting back out within an hour’s time and losing an entire day to the unperfected art of "air-drying.”
A "mud boot” shouldn’t be so light that it can’t handle penetration hazards, such as nails or glass, but it also shouldn’t be so clunky that it continues to hold mud—and extra weight—on the soles. Look for boots that extend high enough up the leg to prevent leaks over the lip when trudging through the deepest areas of soil and bedding on your farm.
Most farmers own two to three pairs of task-specific shoes in addition to their mud boots. These can include a quality pair of steel-toed boots for working around construction materials, as well as riding boots for those who depend on horses to keep their farms operational. Other types of dedicated footwear include snow shoes, protective gardening clogs and hiking boots. Your foot wardrobe will depend largely on the terrain and climate for your area, as well as your farm’s outputs.
Some situations warrant an extra designated pair of boots. Angela England, author of Backyard Farming on an Acre (More or Less) (Penguin Group, 2012), keeps an extra pair of mud boots just for working with chemicals or quarantining new livestock. In addition, snow shoes and snow boots should be purchased in sets of two for households with blustery winters; the spares can be kept in the car for easy access during an emergency.
How can today’s small-scale farmer afford the cost of buying so many boots? Use these tips to avoid losing money on your footwear:
- Look for brands that offer a money-back guarantee or a generous manufacturer’s warranty. More expensive brands tend to offer protection against premature aging, wear and flaws in the materials, and might offer a refund or replacement if they don’t meet expectations.
- While beautiful boots abound in farm-supply stores, most professionals skip the cost of a pretty-patterned pair in lieu of trusted, plainly adorned brands that perform for decades.
- Buy off-season to save on shoes aimed at a particular climate, and ask your local farm-supply store when they put their boots on sale. Many liquidate last year’s inventory at a particular time, offering you a chance to save 30 percent or more.
- Try before you buy; specialty boots (such as steel-toed) can fit wide or narrow compared to "fashion” boots. Don’t assume that you’ll wear the same size even in the same brand.
- Look to prolong the life of your boots with protective sprays, custom laces or specialized drying racks. Don’t, however, do anything that will void your warranty!