As the leaves fall and we start rolling back our clocks for winter to set in, our dairy farmers are still working hard at the farms and in the office to prepare for a new season and another year. Though one might imagine the hustle and bustle of farm life slows down after the crops have been harvested, our farmers continue on their 7 days a week schedule. Cows don’t stop producing milk in the cold, in fact, they thrive in cold weather. But even aside from the twice a day milking, there’s plenty to be done.
Every farm does their winterization a little differently, but the main focuses are often the same. We prepare the fields for winter, keeping them primed for another round of sowing seeds in the spring. We winterize any equipment that won’t be used over the winter to make sure they’re in good shape when activity kicks back up and most of all, we lay out our plans for 2018.
After the corn and soybeans are harvested, we sow seeds for the cover crops well into November. Some plant wheat or barley, but we prefer the nutritional benefits of triticale, a hybrid of wheat and rye, to include in our cow’s diet. Cover crops are important to keep the soil locked in and rich in nutrients over the winter so that when it’s time to plant for the summer, it will be primed to grow strong and healthy crops.
Winterizing equipment is fairly simple. We drain any machinery of anything that can freeze in cooler temperatures and perform any tune-up on engines that have gotten some wear and tear over the peak season. Then we keep them covered in the sheds to make sure the winter elements don’t cause any damage.
Finally, we spend a little more time indoors over the winter. Not just because it’s cold, though coming in after a cold morning milking does provide some relief, but because we have to get into planning mode. Most people don’t imagine farmers as businessmen, but to run a successful farm, it’s important to plan ahead. We review production numbers and crop patterns from the past year to influence buying decisions for the year to come. It’s important to make sure you have enough seeds and supplies ordered and ready for spring because once the busy season starts up, there’s no slowing down.
Cows Love Cooler Weather
The great thing about taking care of cows in the wintertime is that they actually enjoy the cooler weather. Because of their body mass, they have built-in insulation with thick skin and a thick winter coat. Often times, you’ll see them out enjoying the pastures even more than in the summer heat. But there are a few details we keep up with to make sure they stay comfortable even on the coolest days.
The biggest challenge is making sure that their level of nourishment is maintained. While we feed our cows with a feed mixture as well as let them graze in the pasture, we keep in mind that there’s not quite as much grass to be eating while they’re out to pasture. We keep a close watch on their diet to be sure they’re eating enough to maintain their health so that they can keep themselves warm. We also keep a close watch on the water troughs. A hydrated cow is a healthy cow and when temperatures dip below freezing, we have to be sure the water keeps flowing and doesn’t freeze over.
When the wind chill dips into the teens, we lower curtains in the barns so that they’re protected from the cold wind. We keep their bedding thick so that they can snuggle up like we would under our blankets. We also take great care of our calves around this time. They don’t have quite as much natural insulation so they get special treatment in staying nice and warm. The only time we don’t let our cows go out to pasture is when we get a heavy snow, otherwise, they’re free to roam and enjoy the cool breeze.