Wintertime Cow Care

Winter is a good time to trim hooves. Hooves are softer in the winter from moisture. (In the summer hooves turn hard like rocks and are much more difficult to trim!)Ethel's cow trimmed

milkingRosebud4Decide: Do I bring my cow to the machine or the machine to the cow? Our cows walk a path around our house to a walk-in basement. The basement is a concrete floor, insulated area that is not useable as human living quarters but is an excellent work area. We keep all our equipment in the basement, and therefore have no worries about frozen pulsators or a pump that won’t start!

Many setups are outside in a barn environment. If this is so, and is your only option, then position your equipment in the most insulated area you can find, or create an insulated box to keep your pump in. A lamp with a light bulb can help keep the worst of frost off your pump, down to a point.

We recommend always bringing your milking equipment inside, or at minimal, bring in your pulsator. I had many frustrating days trying to warm up a pulsator so it would work! You can also keep a spare pulsator ( has cheap pulsators you can buy for a spare) in case one gets moisture inside and freezes.

In coldest weather, when our pump was in an outside area, we put insulation and a lightbulb near the pump to keep the pump from freezing – one little lightbulb made the difference!

prepostdipTeat dip also likes to freeze, so you can keep a “tool box” with your equipment that needs to head to a warm room between milkings. Consider purchasing a teat dip with emollients that are thick teat dips that will stick to the cow longer as a post dip and can help prevent frost. In below zero weather, you should consider using a cream or lotion and watch out for frostbite or wind-chapped teats.

Homemade teat protection creams can be made from a combination of various oils. I like lanolin, beeswax, and a non-hardening oil like olive oil whipped together with tea tree oil.

"Free-stalls" home-made stylePhoto courtesy of Cheryl Buscher
Home-made style “Free stalls”   – Photo courtesy Cheryl Buscher

Bedding is essential for a milking cow in cold weather. Most importantly, she must be able to keep her udder dry. We use free stalls, but a bedded pack can work sufficiently IF kept dry and clean daily. Freestalls require very minimal care and bedding and are very cost effective. Bedded packs get wet quicker (cows do not pee in free stalls, they do in bedded packs). For more on free stalls: CLICK HERE

In either case, you should try to have soft bedding. A cow is several hundred pounds. She’s a lot bigger than a deer out in the wild, and she’s usually not as fat, like a pig or bear would be! So this means cushy bedding (ideally straw) combined with a basework bedding (we use shavings, but consider maybe sand or dirt with a tapered drainage rock edge).udderRosalie

If your cow gets hairy udder syndrome in the winter… it is okay to trim her hair (you can use human clippers) or you can even just use scissors to trim the hair right around her teats so you don’t pull on her hair while trying to clean her teats or milk her.

A good sign of proper cow is when a cow’s udder is clean the majority of the time. Every cow has an accident now and again, but in general, clean bedding should minimize the need for deep cleaning an udder in winter months.

trough-heaterMilking cows need tempered water: Water heaters function to keep water around 40 degrees. When water goes below that temperature, cows significantly decline in water consumption.

Considering the gallons and gallons of milk a cow produces daily, of which 85% is water… She needs access to ice-free water 24/7!

Stocking up on hay in summer months (and all the associated HARD WORK!) pays big dividends come winter!

BEFORE winter you need to stock up on hay, ideally enough for the longest possible winter months! There are many good reasons:

  1. Preparing in advance avoids metabolic stress from feed changes. If you’re able to feed the same variety of hay(s) all winter, the cow’s rumen is adapted to those hays. Any sudden changes may greatly affect her digestion, risking ketosis or diarrhea.
  2. Hay is generally cheapest in the fall. Farmers know what their hay harvest was, so they can guesstimate based on previous winters in your area how much hay farmers will require to get through til spring. For example, this year we had the wettest June on record. Many farmers did not get their first cutting down until the fourth of July! This means that our first cutting was very poor quality and made the better second and third cuttings much more valuable. Farmers were all concerned about getting enough hay and they sold out very quickly. Other years, we get hay off in June and get large yields and might almost get four cuttings. In those years, hay is abundant and still cheap in price. By spring, anyone who did not buy enough hay was paying exorbitant prices for whatever is left, regardless of quality. You might end up paying twice as much for less quality…
  3. A dairy cow requires LONG-STEMMED fiber as her primary diet. That means alfalfa cubes don’t cut it as a major feed source. One, they are much more expensive. Two, they are heavily processed and less likely to have the nutrition that a fresh hay would. Three, cubes/pellets are finely chopped so cows lose the benefit of the stem of alfalfa, which regulates how fast the hay goes through the cows’ system. Even if hay is twice as expensive as pellets, it’s worth the expense in quality.
  4. High quality hay cuts down on grain needs/costs. You might need to increase grain feeding if your cow early in her lactation in winter or thin and needs some extra energy to keep or put weight on.

Don't be afraid if your cow's milk production goes down. While she may not milk what she does in summer time... she pays her way in cream!

Don’t be afraid if your cow’s milk production goes down. While she may not milk what she does in summer time… she pays her way in cream!

In general, fresh pasture grass = high production (meaning, more gallons of milk per day) & hay feeding = less % water, so more cream per gallon.

(The jar in the back is a fresh cow, she’s still thinned down from calving and such and doesn’t have the creamline yet!)



A last tip: Any time you have a baby born in winter time, be sure to avoid wind. Drafts can cause calves to get sick very easily in cold weather.

Ideal options are: a calf dome (a plastic individual calf pen) or a well-ventilated pen protected from wind with thickly bedded straw and shavings to keep the calf warm and dry. Ventilation can be above the height of the calf, so the calf is protected by side walls. A closeable door is nice to be able to open into a run/pen so that the calf can enjoy sunshiny days.





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