Wrapping up the Winter
As mid-March approaches and we’re definitely awaiting warmer weather, it’s easy to look back and remember how cold this winter was. The last two winters we have had in Michigan have been far worse than we have seen in quite some time. Last year, we had lots of snow. This year, we saw bitter cold temps. My dad said he hasn’t seen it this bad in years.
We are often asked what we do to care for our cows in cold weather. Well, it takes more love and attention in winter than it does any other time. Our pregnant moms share one large pen and that’s where they give birth. When our calves are born, they are immediately removed from the birthing pen for the safety of the calf. The next thing we do is give the calf colostrum, or the mother’s first milk. My husband Brad says it’s “the best way to warm the calf from the inside out.” The calves also get their first shots, and we even put wool coats on them to keep them toasty warm. Then they are taken to individual calf pens with fresh bedding, although sometimes two calves are put in the same pen for extra body heat. All the barn doors and curtains remain shut, and in extreme temps, we’ve turned an enclosed side room of the calving pen into a warming room.
As for the large animals, we keep the curtains and doors shut. It’s amazing how warm the barn is with 300 animals in it! Our animals always have fresh food in front of them and we have to watch the water fountains to make sure they don’t freeze so the cows always have water as well. We’re constantly checking and refreshing food and water to keep our cows healthy and content.
With their thick skin and warm fur coats, cows are considered cold weather animals, and are usually content as long as they’re out of the wind and snow. But, sometimes things can get dramatic! One morning it was 18 degrees below zero and my husband walked into the freestall barn where all of the milking cows are. The breath from the cows was freezing in the air and creating a dense fog. You couldn’t see far enough to tell which cow was which. He said he’d never seen anything like it.
Dairy farming is never an easy job, but the weather determines everything when it comes to the care of animals. And as dairy farmers, it’s our job to do everything we can to keep our cows healthy and comfortable.