Brrrrr… its cold outside! The temps we have been experiencing on our Michigan farm this year have been crazy! Not only have we had snow and but we have had temperatures so frigid that my kid’s school has been canceled due to extreme wind chill! I am always amazed how animals are able to make it through winter, when it’s not even safe for my kiddos to go to school. God sure made them special. As for the cows, they spend their days near the food. The fermented hay and silage are a great source of protein and heat to help them get through these winter months. We do provide them with a barn to go into if they want, but they rarely do. Even during the big snow storms or ice storms, they just turn their butts to the wind and ride it out. It’s funny to me how wooly the cows get. Their hair gets so long and thick and I actually think they like the snow because it probably acts as a blanket as it piles up on their backs. Even the calves spend most of their time outside. After a particularly large snow storm recently, I thought we had a herd of polar bears instead of cows! They all had at least 3 inches of snow covering them.
We have a bunker silo full of feed to help them get through the winter, but we also have the big job of making sure they have access to fresh water. Water is the toughest part of farm life in the winter. It probably isn’t something you worry about, unless you have a garden house that you forgot to put away for the winter. Let me tell you, when you have thirsty animals, and it is -3 degrees outside, water is your biggest worry. Luckily, we have electricity in our barn and have some very large water tanks with a pretty nifty invention called a water heater. This great device floats in the water tank and heats the water to keep in from freezing. We still have the daily job of hooking up the hose, filling the tank and then draining the hose (very slowly!!). As a kid, I hated to drain the hose, but after 1 frozen hose, thirsty cows, and angry parents, I decided that I better take my time and do it right! So, each time I unhook the hose from the hydrant, I hold one end over my head, then slowly walk the entire length of the hose with it over my head to make sure that all the water runs out, as I tell myself “Don’t rush it!”
Winter has its pro’s and con’s here on the farm. The cold weather that freezes the water also freezes the ground and keeps the mud at bay. We hate the mud, and so do the cows. As the ground thaws the pasture becomes a soupy mess that the cows have to trudge through to get anywhere. This can totally ruin the pastures, so we have to use a good rotation schedule. Another con of the winter is that fresh grass isn’t growing during our harsh winters, but thankfully our cows are still able to be fed grasses in the form of hay and silage through the use of our bunker system. The cows seem to be pretty happy either way and luckily their warm wooly coats keep them just the right temperature.
I hope you enjoyed this little window to the farm as I fill you in on what it’s like to take care of our cows in the winter months.