Winter can be a tough time of year for cows. On a dairy farm, cold temperatures can effect how a cow eats, sleeps and produces milk. Typically when temperatures range between 35-40 degrees, a cow will be very comfortable inside and outside the barn. However, when the temperature starts to dip below freezing precautions are taken.
On the Hartong Dairy Farm, we have four main structures that house our cattle. A freestall barn that houses 120 milking cows. A drycow barn that houses 45-50 bred heifers and drycows. A heifer barn that houses 15 unbred heifers and a bank barn that houses another 30-40 cows ranging from 4-10 months old. All of these structures have similar needs when the temperature drops below freezing. Here are three necessities that cows need to stay comfortable.
Keeping water thawed and fresh can be one of the most challenging tasks during the winter especially during extended periods of sub zero temperatures. Fortunately there are solutions out there that help make life easier. Many water fountains have electric elements that can keep water bowls warm but its still important to check water fountains every day. Milk production can drop significantly without proper hydration and younger cows can get sick if water is not readily available.
Wind chill is also an important factor when it comes to keeping cows comfy. It may say 20 degrees on the thermometer but with a heavy snow and wind comes the potential for sub zero wind chills. It is important that cattle have a place to go to escape the wind. On our farm, every group of cows has a bedding pack that has good wind cover. Any windows are covered for the season with plywood or curtains. On our freestall barn, our milk cows are shielded by a series of retractable curtains and sliding doors.
Finally, it is important that your cows are well fed. During the colder months our cattle can increase their consumption by 50% at times, so making sure your cows always have something to eat will keep them happy during those bitter cold nights.
Overall, our cows enjoy the colder weather. Unfortunately living in northeast Ohio we see weather extremes during the hot days of summer, and the bitter freezing nights of winter. As long as you’re attentive to your cattle’s three main necessities, they should be happy and comfortable all winter long.