Remember the last time it was bitterly cold and snowing? Think about how many layers of clothing you or your children had to wear while being outside? Now, imagine yourself as a farmer and not only worrying about the number of layers of clothes that you’re wearing but keeping your animals safe and warm throughout the long winter months as well.

Winter is a symbol of transition on the farm. Harvest is completed and spring planting hasn’t yet arrived. However, there is no room for rest on dairy farms because no matter the temperature, milking occurs every day. Winter means additional challenges and long days ahead to ensure animals are healthy, safe, and warm.

Here are some ways that dairy farmers care for their animals during the winter months.

“Calves with Coats.” It’s a cute sight to see but it’s also the norm on the farm during the cold winter months. Photo from Tiashoke Farms.

Calves

  • Fresh, dry bedding – Calves are born year-round on dairy farms and mothers do the best they can to quickly clean and dry their calves, and providing fresh, dry bedding helps newborn calves start off on the right foot.
  • Warming huts – Some dairy farms are fortunate to have warming huts which are enclosed areas and act similar to hair dryers. Warm air is blown onto the calves to quickly dry them off shortly after birth to warm them up and give them a great start.
  • Jackets – As soon as calves are dry, farmers will put a jacket on them to keep them warm and dry. The calves are able to walk, run and play, just as they would in the summertime.
  • Extra feedings – On really cold days, some farmers will give calves an extra feeding or more milk to ensure they have the calories needed to stay warm.

Before the snow starts to fall, farmers check the curtains on their barns to ensure they are working properly and ready to keep their herd warm all winter long. Photo from Bilow Farms LLC

Cows

  • Access to fresh water – Even with cooler temperatures, cows drink a lot of water in the winter — up to 30-50 gallons a day. With freezing temperatures, farmers ensure water availability is plentiful – and thawed.
  • Continuous feed supply – Due to an increased metabolism in colder months, farmers may alter a cow’s diet to ensure an adequate feed supply for cows to generate natural warmth.
  • Moisturizing udder balm – Similar to the chapped lips that people get, udders may also get chapped so farmers will use a moisturizing udder balm for preventative measure.
  • Close the curtains – Newer style barns are typically open to ensure great ventilation, however in the winter, thick fabric curtains are drawn, closing up the barn to eliminate wind, retain heat but still allow for good ventilation.

Farmers can’t control Mother Nature but they can control how to react to the conditions that are given to them. So the next time you’re bundled up playing in the snow or curled up in your flannel sheets, take a moment and remember the extra-long hours that your neighboring dairy farmer is working every day to make sure his or her cows are tucked in nice and warm each night.