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Caring for Cows in Cold Weather

Hats, mittens, scarves, toe warmers, and a dose of Vitamin C are just a few things you may have on hand for the upcoming winter. It takes a great deal of effort just to keep ourselves warm and healthy during our Wisconsin winters. Now imagine caring for hundreds of animals in this deep freeze. With the temperatures dropping, Wisconsin dairy farmers are caring for their animals and making sure they are comfortable throughout the next few cold months. Farmers on our state’s nearly 9,000 dairy farms take extra measures to ensure warmth, safety and comfort for the animals that are their livelihood.

Even though Wisconsin faces frigid temps, our climate is relatively ideal for dairy cows. When cows are lactating, they naturally produce excess amounts of heat. Therefore, they are most comfortable at lower temperatures. The ideal temperature for a dairy cow is between 40-50 degrees. When the temperature drops below that 40 degree mark, farmers step in to make necessary adjustments to their facilities, feed and daily routines.

The first thing you might notice during winter months are closed curtain walls on dairy barns. These curtains are opened in the spring and remain open until temperatures drop to assure proper ventilation and air flow in a barn. When the cold weather sets in, these curtains will be closed and secured to serve as a windbreak and prevent drafts and moisture from entering the barn. Extra care is also put into formulating feed rations for dairy cows to guarantee additional energy is available for warmth during the winter months. These feed rations are monitored throughout the winter and are analyzed by a herd’s nutritionist. Automatic heated waterers in barns are also checked daily to ensure cows have plenty of access to water as cows, on average, drink a bathtub a day!

Young calves are especially vulnerable to freezing temperatures. Extra measures are taken to keep calves warm and growing. Caretakers will increase the amount and number of feedings to these young animals each day to assure enough energy for warmth in addition to growth. This could mean upwards of three to four feedings a day during the coldest parts of the winter. Farmers also provide dry, deep bedding for calves to bed in and may even outfit calves with custom jackets that ensure extra warmth. At my family’s farm we even have adorable ear muffs for calves to mitigate the chance of frostbite.

Wisconsin’s dairy farmers work tirelessly year round to provide the best possible environment for their cows and will be working even harder during these months to keep cows comfortable and producing wholesome milk. The next time you enjoy a delicious dairy product, make sure to thank our hardworking dairy farmers who face the frigid Wisconsin weather to care for the cows who brought it to you. From my family’s farm to your family’s table, enjoy all that America’s Dairyland has to offer.

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