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How Cows Stay Warm in the Winter

Oct 19, 2015

How Cows Stay Warm in the Winter

When winter sets in on a dairy, farmers pay special attention to two things: Their cows and the weather.

To make sure their cows are comfortable all winter long, dairy farmers like Melissa Greenbacker of Greenbacker’s Brookfield Farm in Durham, Conn., embrace a number of winter cow care practices throughout the season. Plus, cows do a pretty good job of preparing for winter on their own, too. Thanks to their thick skin, hair and natural insulation, cows actually prefer temperatures between 40 and 65 degrees. So long as the cows are well fed, healthy, and have dry bedding, they don’t mind the cold.

That said, it’s important to keep cows dry and out of the wind to keep them comfortable. It can be dangerous for cows to be wet in a cold wind, that’s why cows prefer to stay in their dry barns where they have plenty of space to lay down, walk around, eat, and drink fresh water.

To keep the cows comfortable in their barn, Greenbacker said they’ll close the barn doors and hang plastic curtains over the barn’s naturally open sides. Depending on the outside temperature, they may raise the curtain to allow some air circulation. Even an unheated barn can stay a comfortable temperature due to the body heat generated by the cows.

While the adult cows naturally handle cooler temperatures, Greenbacker said they take extra precautions to make sure their young calves are as warm and comfortable as possible. On the Greenbacker farm, each calf has her own hutch to call home for a few months. Their individual hutches provide a safe, warm place for each calf to live and move around. Plus, Greenbacker can monitor each one’s health, and how much each eats. Inside the hutch, Greenbacker adds extra straw, the calves’ favorite bedding to snuggle into. They also prep their calves with some special winter gear: calf jackets. The jackets, which have a quilted inside and a windbreaker-like outside, provide an extra layer of warmth. This means that calves can use their extra energy to grow strong, rather than keep warm. The combination of hutch, straw and jacket result in cozy calf conditions. “Sometimes I wish I could get in there and snuggle with them,” Greenbacker said of her calves in their hutches. “They’re actually pretty warm.” Photos courtesy Melissa Greenbacker.