There are many ways we can keep ourselves comfortable during the chill of winter. A warm cup of hot cocoa or eggnog, a cheese fondue, a cheese casserole, even mac & cheese are all great winter treats. However, when you shop for groceries, you might not realize the lengths that farmers go to keep cows healthy during the harsh winter weather. Farmers commit to treating animals with respect and compassion and their dedication extends to handling with adverse weather conditions.
You might be surprised by all the clever ideas, proven practices, and technology farmers use to care for cows in the winter, and the best part is that it is all sustainable, as the goal is to preserve animals, plants, and the environment.
1. Cows’ natural jackets.
A cow’s average body temperature is between 101-102 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hotter than humans. This is in part because, when cows digest their food, the process called fermentation creates heat. One way that they thermoregulate themselves or keep warm when it is cold out is by eating more food.”
Farmers are attentive to the needs of their cows, taking all necessary precautions. Because of this, nutritionists feed cows according to the weather. During winter, these animals require more food to grow new hair, which will help them stay warm.
2. Curtains are key.
Barns are designed to withstand cold temperatures. Using technology, farmers keep their cows warm, avoid wind drafts, and maintain proper ventilation. Farmers invest in software to monitor temperature, wind speed, fans, lights, and curtains in barns, all while reducing energy usage and improving long term sustainability
Curtains block the wind while allowing some vents to remain open. USDairy claims that cows, “have plenty of space to lay down, walk around, eat, and drink fresh water” in such barns.
All of these accommodations include beds. For cows to be comfortable and warm, their beds must be dry, soft, and fresh.
3. Taking extra steps with calves.
Calves’ temperature sensitivity is greater than that of cows. Once the temperature dips below 50 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time for special care, warmers/heaters designed to dry them off after being born to prevent hypothermia or frostbite. Calves are only born with 2-4% body fat. Heat lamps are also used (with caution as they pose a fire hazard). Farmers may even make calf earmuffs.
Calves often wear a blanket with quilted lining inside and a windbreaker-like outer layer for extra warmth. In this way, the calves are able to use their excess energy to grow strong, rather than keep warm.
4. Maintaining the routine, no matter what the weather is.
Routine is crucial for cows as they are creatures of habit. They must be milked every day on time. Having all the technology in the barns allows farmers to maintain their routines, milking them every day with no problems, and (most importantly) keeping the cows well fed to keep their internal furnace (stomach) going which provides warmth.
5. Maintaining drinkable water
Cows drink about forty gallons of water every day. The cold weather can freeze the water they need, so many farmers use heated or insulated water tubs to ensure their cows always have fresh water to drink.
6. Being always ready and sustainable.
Farmers must be proactive. They need to plan for spring, even in winter. American Dairy Association North East explains that many farmers use cow manure as a fertilizer for their fields, since it’s a great source of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. “Additionally, some farmers plant winter-hardy cover crops, such as rye, wheat, or triticale, a hybrid of rye and wheat. These crops help protect and improve soil health.”
Next time you buy dairy products, you can now keep in mind all the love and effort farmers put into their farms, animals, and land to provide the best products.