How do you keep your cows warm and comfortable in the winter?

November 13, 2019

Answer: We provide buildings that protect our cows from harsh winter temperatures and drafts, along with clean, dry stalls and bedding. We also give them good quality feed with enough extra energy in their diet to withstand the cold weather.

As I write this, the leaves have fallen and it’s snowing. Typically we think of winter arriving in December, but this year it came in late October.

There are several things on a dairy farm that need to be done before winter arrives. First, we winterize all the water tanks making sure the heat units are working and water is accessible. Second, the cows are taken off of the pasture (based on the cold winter weather) so waters in the pasture need to be drained. Third, some buildings are opened up for better ventilation in the summer and more airflow, so we close the building curtains and put plywood walls up on some of the buildings for insulation and to prevent wind drafts.

A big challenge is having adequate feed for the animals throughout the winter. This starts by taking an inventory of feed on hand. Our feed needs were challenged this year with the spring being wet, then the summer dry, and this fall being wet again, impacting our crops.

Chopping corn for silage was a month behind normal due to the later planted corn this year. Because of the shorter growing season the corn crop also was shorter in height, which resulted in less tons harvested per acre. Normally we need between 2,000 and 2,500 tons of corn silage for our cows. Between rains we finally managed to harvest 100 acres giving me roughly 1,800 tons.

Making hay this year was extremely challenging too – hay quality is a big issue on a dairy farm. We did manage some medium-quality hay that was made. This is because some hay got rained on while others got too mature waiting for a dry spell to make hay. Hay is in very short supply all over the country. We did make some wet hay and wrapped it in plastic. This type of hay is called balage bales. We are hoping to have enough hay to last us through the winter and in early spring we will probably make more balage hay.

Bedding for animals is another inventory concern. We normally use wheat straw for bedding. A lot of wheat had winter kill so there were fewer acres of wheat straw to bale this year. Typically we have 500 to 800 large round bales of straw in inventory but this year we have less than 300. We are hoping to make corn stalk bales if the weather permits. We may have to use sawdust or other commodities for bedding.

Our goal during the winter is for our dairy cattle to come inside, out of the wind, and lie down on a clean dry area or stall. Also, it’s important they are fed nutritious feed with enough extra energy in their diet for cold weather. As a dairy farmer, it’s my job to take care of my dairy cattle throughout the year. When we take care of them they take care of us.

 

BILL DEUTSCH – FIFTH GENERATION DAIRY AND GRAIN FARMER, SYCAMORE

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