Man has the weather been crazy here! Five days ago we had negative wind chills. Then it was a balmy 35 degrees. The next day it was raining and now yesterday it was snowing. YUCK!
So how do we keep everyone warm and dry? I am talking animals, because us farmers are out of luck and have to endure whatever nature throws at us. First, we make animal care our number one priority.
All our youngest calves are tucked in safe and warm in their individual hutches. These domes are bedded with straw and stay quite warm. The domes have vents on the top to that we can control when it is warmer out or shut when it is cold. On really windy, cold snowy days we will place bales in front of the hutches to prevent snow from blowing in.
Our next oldest group (4-8 week olds) are in what we call an EZ hutch. These group housing areas are also bedded with straw. Three to four animals share a hutch, so the calves can snuggle together. The next oldest group (8 weeks until cow) are housed in an open front shed that is also bedded with straw.
Our milk cows get their “beach.” This is our sand bedded free stall building. Free stall means that they get to choose which stall they want to lay in. Our cows have access to an outside pasture area and the beach equally. On nice days you will find them all outside, on crummy days they will relaxing in the beach, using their natural body heat to warm the building up.
The key in all the groups is to keep the bedding dry. We bed often (usually every 2-3 days for straw areas and daily for sand bedding) and keep areas clear of manure pile up. Cattle are able to maintain a healthy body temperature at cold temperatures. Their bodies are designed to handle the outdoor elements. Those animals that are feeling under the weather or are about to calve, will be kept in the barn in either a straw bedded area or given the chance to use sand bedded stalls.
Besides keeping our animals bedded properly, we must give them plenty of healthy food and keep their water free of ice. Our animals are fed more hay when the temperatures drop, because they are burning more calories to stay warm. It is not until the temps dip below zero or if there is a strong wind, will we start to worry. Our biggest concern with our milk cows is keeping frost bite off the udders. We apply a protective cream after each milking if frost bite is a concern.
Keeping our animals comfortable and healthy is our number one concern. As for the farmers, we do the best we can in our winter gear. Layers is the name of the game.
What are some fun ways you keep your family warm and healthy in the winter?
Zweber Farms is a 4th generation family operated organic dairy. We are proud Organic Valley farmer members and sell our milk under that label. We also specialize in sustainably raised beef, pork and chicken and sell it directly to customers in Minnesota.Visit our website to learn more, www.zweberfarms.com