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Keeping our Cows Warm This Winter

For many people, the winter season means cozying up in front of the fire, drinking hot chocolate with friends, and doing anything they can to stay warm. Farmers with livestock, however, will be outside braving the elements to take care of their animals. No matter the weather forecast, road conditions, or if it’s a holiday—farmers have to be out in the elements, taking care of their animals. Winter animal care is a necessary consideration for Wisconsin farmers.

Wisconsin’s all-seasons climate is nearly ideal for your average dairy cow, even the colder winter months. Dairy cows prefer temperatures between 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit, though they are well-insulated to thrive in temperatures lower than that. While driving through the state in the winter, you may see cows outside with snow on their backs. The fact that the snow has not melted off of them is evidence of their body’s great insulation, preventing their body heat from melting the snow.  Additionally, when cows are lactating, they naturally produce excess heat, making barns comfortable at lower temperatures. When temperatures or wind chills drop even further, farmers can make necessary adjustments to their facilities, feed, and daily routines to keep their animals comfortable.

Farm facilities in Wisconsin are typically built to keep animals comfortable whether in the summer heat or the winter chill. Oftentimes, barns will have curtains or windows that can be opened to keep cool air flowing in the summer or closed to prevent chilly drafts and hold in heat in the winter. Some doorways will also have flaps that allow free movement of the cattle, while keeping the wind out, similar to a dog door you may have at your house. Keeping animals off the ground is a great way to keep them warm, so extra bedding such as straw, sand, wood shavings, and so on will be added, increasing the insulation. Farm nutritionists can also help the farmer adjust the feed amount based on upcoming temperatures, ensuring their animals have enough energy to use. Keeping up the supply of water in the winter can be a challenge, as a dairy cow drinks, on average, a full bathtub’s worth of water every day! Automated heated waterers in barns, not just outside, maintain a steady supply of water available without having to venture outside.

New calves can be especially vulnerable to the cold, and special care is taken to keep them safe and warm. To ensure adequate energy to maintain warmth and continue developing properly, the number or size of daily feedings can be increased up to three to four feedings per day during the coldest parts of the winter. Farmers also provide dry, deep bedding for calves to lie in and may outfit calves with jackets that provide extra warmth. Some farms even use earmuffs to help reduce the risk of frostbite. Timing of calving can also help protect the herd. On many of Wisconsin’s beef farms, calves will be born in the spring after frigid temperatures have passed, reducing the need for as much intervention.

Though Wisconsin farmers work hard year-round to create the best environment possible for their animals in all seasons and weather conditions, they work especially hard during our cold winters to keep their animals safe and comfortable when those temperatures dip. This winter season, keep our hardworking farmers and the animals they care for in mind as you enjoy your favorite dairy products.


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