Four Seasons of Comfy Cows

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stops the postal service from doing their job–add Sundays, federal holidays, and looming apocalypses to the list and then it would apply to dairy farmers, too!

Dairy farming happens in all weather and all climates, from snowy Wisconsin to sunny California.

Here in Indiana (the if-you-don’t-like-the-weather-wait-5-minutes state), our dairy farmers are gearing up to see to their cows’ comfort as winter changes to spring. March goes in like a lion and out like a lamb, they say, so farmers have to be prepared to change strategies quickly to keep cows warm when it’s cold and cool when it’s hot.

Cold winters may make you and me bundle up in mittens, scarves and coats, but even fairly cold temperatures aren’t that much of a problem for an adult dairy cow. If she’s in a draft-free barn, with clean, dry bedding, and a group of friends, she’s pretty toasty.

Cows generate a lot of body heat, so an enclosed barn  or even a pasture lean-to with a group of cows in it will be a lot warmer than the howling blizzard outside. Cows also have a big, powerful stomach and are constantly digesting their food. Ever notice that you feel warmer after a bite to eat? Cows do too, only they eat pretty much all the time, so their stomach is like a personal space heater.

Jersey-calf-182x300The cold does pose a big challenge to baby calves, though. These youngsters don’t have a layer of fat to protect them and since they are only drinking milk and not eating solid food, their stomach doesn’t warm them up that much. In the winter, calves are bedded down with a lot of clean straw so they can snuggle down in and stay warm. Calves are either housed in groups in a draft-free barn so they can huddle together or have their own personal area so they are completely protected from any wind or draft.

In very cold climates, calves even wear little coats, similar to a horse’s blanket or a Paris-Hilton-style dog sweater, to stay extra warm!

The warmer months may be a little easier on the calves, but that’s when the mama cows need a lot of attention. By the time you would be comfortable standing outside in a T-shirt, it’s already “hot” to a cow–she’s using energy cooling herself down.

The picture at the top shows a barn opened up for the summer time, with fans to circulate air. Farmers install fans and even misters to keep cows cool, and always have a supply of fresh water available so cows can take a refreshing drink.

So whether March brings snowstorms, sunshine or anything in between, Indiana dairy farmers are prepared to keep their cows comfortable.