Dairy farm preparation to avoid the winter woes

A winter preparation checklist is a simple, but necessary tool.
calendar icon 31 October 2022
clock icon 6 minute read

As we transition into cooler weather, it is never too early to start preparing the farm to avoid the winter woes, says Penn State University Extension. Every farm is unique and may have different tasks to do to prepare for the upcoming cold weather. If this coming winter is the worst we have experienced in years, is your farm ready for heaping piles of snow on top of barns? Frozen water tanks? Icy surfaces? Below are a few reminders when prepping the farm for the winter season:

1. Make a checklist - To-do lists can help you stay on track.

  • Writing out a list of tasks that need to be completed can be a helpful tool to get started especially if farm employees or multiple family members are helping with the winter preparations. In addition, setting deadlines of when that task should be completed can be beneficial.

2. Barn maintenance - You will thank yourself later for making necessary repairs now rather than waiting until the cold weather arrives.

  • Check side wall curtains for any holes that need repaired and make sure they are functioning properly.
  • Identify and repair any holes in metal siding or broken windows that could let in snow, rain, ice, or wind.
  • Be sure that all doors, including garage doors, are functional.
  • At least two times a year blades and louvres on ventilation fans should be cleaned and fans should be inspected for any loose belts that need to be tightened or replaced.
  • Inspecting the roof for any weak spots with holes or cracks is important in the instance of heavy snowfall or ice.
  • If your herd grazes, be sure there is an appropriately sized shelter those animals can retreat to for a windbreak and to get out of the harsh weather to stay clean, dry, and comfortable.
  • Preventative trimming of any trees that are around houses, barns, fences, or driveways may be necessary.

3. Water - An essential nutrient even when it is cold!

  • Look for any hoses, floats, or water lines that could cause ice build-up and may need to be repaired.
  • Check heated waterers and water heating elements to ensure they still work properly. Be sure to pay attention to the electrical cords and to keep them out of reach of the animals.
  • If heated waterers or water heating elements are not used, then having a plan in place to ensure animals of all ages have 24/7 access to clean drinking water is necessary.

4. Maternity pen, calves, and heifers - Clean, dry, and comfortable is key!

  • Cows can begin experiencing cold stress around 32°F, like heat stress this can adversely affect performance.
  • Maternity pens should be well bedded to prevent cows from giving birth in a sloppy, wet, cold area and protected from any drafts.
  • Heifers can begin experiencing cold stress at 59°F, therefore heifers that are kept on pasture need a shelter to be provided for them to seek refuge from the wind and elements. Be sure to bed under the shelter with a thick layer of straw to allow heifers to nestle in and keep warm.
  • If the pasture is really wet and muddy, it may be best to keep heifers in the barn for the a few days to prevent damage to the pastures. Always have a plan in place for housing cattle in case of muddy pastures!
  • If housing heifers in a sloped-pad heifer barn or bedded-pack, extra bedding will be necessary during the cold months to allow heifers to stay clean and dry and to keep them warm.
  • Examining body condition and hair coat of cows and heifers can help identify poor doers. Animals have an increased caloric need in cold weather to maintain body temperature, therefore, the amount of feed offered may need to be increased.
  • Move calf hutches to an area that is protected from wind and snow to keep snow from entering the hutch.
  • Have enough calf jackets clean and ready to use for all calves on milk.
  • Calves are more sensitive to the drop in temperature and need to be provided with extra bedding to nestle in to maintain a healthy body temperature.

5. Check and prepare farm equipment - You will thank yourself again when it is freezing on a Monday morning and the tractor starts on the first try!

  • Service all farm equipment and vehicles before winter: Check batteries, oil, anti-freeze, fuel levels, and tires.
  • Test and service generators to have ready in case of a power outage.
  • Be sure all snow removal equipment is in working order and ready to be used.

6. Driveways and barnyard maintenance - Prevent mud holes for the upcoming spring.

  • Pick up and move all supplies and equipment out of the way for snow removal.
  • Filling areas with gravel on driveways and walkways that are known to turn into potholes can be helpful when snow melts.
  • Filling areas in pastures that typically turn into mud holes in spring can be helpful in the instance of a wet spring.

7. Stock up on supplies - Have on hand a 2-week supply of all the essentials.

  • Plenty of bedding should be available on the farm. More bedding is needed for cows, heifers, and calves to stay warm and dry.
  • As the temperature goes down, the energy requirements of animals increase. For calves on milk, increasing milk or milk replacer may be necessary to maintain a healthy average daily gain. For older heifers and cows, increasing grain, forages, and hay fed can help to meet the increased energy requirements. Keep a 2-week stock of all feeds and forages in case feed trucks don’t have access to the farm due to road conditions.
  • Having a stock of frozen colostrum or colostrum replacer can be valuable.
  • Keeping a few warm blankets and heat lamps in the barn to quickly warm up a newborn calf.
  • At least a 2-week supply of fuel for equipment is important in case of bad road conditions and the inability to go to a service station.
  • Don't forget about keeping the people warm! Make sure to have plenty of warm winter boots, socks, gloves, hats, winter jackets, and hand and feet warmers.

8. Emergency plan - Better safe than sorry!

  • Do you have coverage in case of a building collapse due to snow load? Check with your insurance provider.
  • Do you have a plan with the milk hauler if milk is unable to be picked up for a longer period than usual due to road conditions?
  • Think about some possible incidents that could occur due to extremely cold weather/snow and have a plan to avoid added stress.

Having a winter preparation checklist can help assure that you have completed all farm tasks for the upcoming cold season. This is just a general list of farm preparation tasks; therefore, it will need to be tailored to fit your specific farm.

Penn State University

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