Winter on the Dairy Farm: Q&A

Today I’m going to answer some common questions we get asked about dairy farming in the winter time!

Question: What do dairy farmers do when there is a winter storm?

Answer: The same thing they do every day! Cows don’t care if there is a travel advisory or a dangerous wind chill, farmers still have to make sure their cows are fed, watered and milked everyday. It is a lot more challenging to get roads clear enough for the milk truck to come to the farm. Most farmers have large equipment they can use to clean out their driveways for the milk truck, and many of them even wind up cleaning county roads because sometimes it’s quicker to do it yourself than wait for the plows!

Q: Aren’t the cows cold?

A: Cows actually thrive in colder months. Many farmers are able to give their cows a sheltering barn to keep the worst of the wind and cold at bay, but even cows who are outside adapt by growing longer coats. In a sheltered barn, the body heat of a a group of cows is enough to keep them warm even in bitter winters. Since cows are ruminants, their largest stomach compartment is basically a fermentation vat. Their digestive processes keep them warmer than us–in fact, by the time humans are comfortable in short sleeves, cows are hot.

Q: Are the baby calves cold?

A: Baby calves are another story–they can get too cold  more easily than a mama cow. Farmers make sure calves have deep bedding to snuggle in, barns or hutches to protect them from the wind, warm milk to drink, and on bitterly cold days, even little jackets to stay warm. Calves are the future of the farm so farmers work hard to keep them healthy.

Q: What if the power goes out?

A: Some farms have backup generators. Others just have to make do. Milking can’t take place when the power is out since the machines run on electricity. It can be a huge challenge.

Q: Do the pipes ever freeze in the milking parlor?

A: Yes. Farmers use water and liquid disinfectants to clean their milking parlor and keep everything food safe. If these pipes freeze, it can be difficult to get them thawed out before the milking happens. On super cold days, the milk line could even freeze! This is a major pain, so farmers try to keep the milking parlor warm enough so the pipes won’t freeze.