Winter Care: Cows & Calves

by Fred Gingrich DVM

Dairy farmers take special precautions in the winter to protect calves and cows from the elements.

Adult cows actually have a much harder time handling the heat than the cold. Cows can produce 4,500 to 6,000 BTUs of heat per hour so a barn with 100 cows produces more heat than your typical furnace does to heat your home!

Dairy farmers actually have barns with openings at the top and on the sides of the barn to allow that heat to escape. This helps to prevent pneumonia and dairy farmers always strive to first prevent disease in their cows.

The most sensitive parts of a cow to the cold are the teats. During milking the teats become damp from the milking machine. Dairy farmers also apply a disinfectant teat dip to prevent mastitis after the cows are done milking. This can increase the chances of chapped teats that can become sore, similar to how our hands get sore when they are exposed to cold weather. Sometimes farmers use different types of dips or powders with moisturizers to help to prevent chapping of the teats.

Dairy farmers work hard to ensure that the cows are clean, dry and comfortable, especially in the winter.

Calves are more prone to ill effects from the cold weather due to their small body size and inability to generate heat like an adult cow. For this reason, you may see Ohio dairy calves wearing a “calf blanket” in the winter. This is a fleece lined coat that is attached to the calves to keep them warm.

Calves are also born wet and dairy farmers work hard to dry them off as soon as possible after birth. Some farms have a calf warming box that they place the calf in to dry the hair coat which looks like a large hair dryer from the beauty salon!

Calf pens are typically deep bedded with straw in the winter to provide a place for the calf to nest, keep warm and dry. There are many styles of housing for calves such as individual hutches, barns and group pens. All of them work well for calf health and comfort.

Dairy farmers also know that a necessary step to keeping calves healthy in the winter is to provide them more nutrition so we typically increase the amount of milk they get in the winter. Some calves will drink up to 3 gallons of milk per day!

Dairy farmers everywhere work hard every day to keep their animals comfortable all year round.

Guest Blogger

Fred Gingrich DVM

Dr. Fred Gingrich has been a dairy veterinarian for 20 years. He practices in Ashland, Ohio and is the president of the American Association of Bovine Practitioners.

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