How Cows Stay Warm in the Winter
When winter sets in on a dairy, farmers pay special attention to their cows and the weather.
Dairy farmers like Melissa Greenbacker Dziurgot of Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm in Durham, Conn., embrace a variety of winter cow care practices to make sure their cows stay nice and cozy all season long. And cows do a pretty good job of preparing for winter on their own.
Thanks to their thick skin, hair and natural insulation, cows actually prefer temperatures between 40 and 65 degrees. As long as they’re well fed, healthy and have dry bedding, cows don’t mind the cold.
To help keep their cows comfortable when the temperature dips, Dziurgot and her team close the barn’s doors and hang plastic curtains over its naturally open sides. Depending on how cold it is, they might raise the curtains a bit to allow some air circulation. Even an unheated barn can stay a comfortable temperature, thanks to the body heat cows generate.
It can be dangerous for cows to be wet in a cold wind; luckily, cows prefer to stay in their dry barns, where they have plenty of space to lay down, walk around, eat and drink fresh water.
While the adult cows naturally handle cooler temperatures, Dziurgot said they take extra precautions at the dairy to keep calves as warm and comfortable as possible.
On the Greenbacker farm, each calf has her own hutch to call home for a few months. These individual enclosures provide a safe, warm place for each calf and enough room to move around. The hutch also makes it easy to monitor each calf’s health, as well as how much she eats.
In winter, Dziurgot adds extra straw to the hutches, giving the calves more of their favorite bedding to snuggle into. They also outfit their calves with special winter gear: calf jackets, which have a quilted inside and a windbreaker-like outside, for an extra layer of warmth. This allows the calves to use their extra energy to grow strong, rather than keep warm.
The cozy combination of hutch, straw and jackets results in optimal calf conditions in cold weather.
“Sometimes I wish I could get in there and snuggle with them!” Dziurgot admitted.