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Start preparing your dairy for winter

Emily Wilmes

November is the time to prepare for the cold and snow that winter brings to Minnesota dairy farms.  Consider facilities, equipment, animal care, and general farm management to save time and headaches down the road.  There are a few key areas to consider for getting your farm prepared for cold temperatures, frigid winds, snow and ice.

Prepare your cattle

Preventing cold stress

The most important factors in preventing cold stress are providing shelter and keeping the animals dry. When a cow starts to feel cold stress is influenced by


Young calves (less than 3 weeks old) can begin feeling cold stress at even 60°F, so observe calves daily for cold stress. Be sure to have calf jackets washed and ready for use. In addition, offer an adequate amount of clean, dry, comfortable bedding.

Dry cows, heifers, or steers

Typically, with a dry winter coat, cattle will begin to feel cold stress around 32°F. However, they could be comfortable down to 18°F. Dry cows, heifers, or steers may be more exposed to the elements than cows that spend most of the colder months in a barn. If it is not possible to provide a shelter for these animals, at the very least, provide a windbreak.

Winter feeding

November is also a great time to think about winter feeding strategies.  As the temperatures drop, the energy needs of cattle increase, as they need to work harder to keep themselves warm.  Some cattle will eat twice the amount of feed than they eat in warmer months.  Ensuring there is a higher density of energy in the feed will help cattle maintain their body temperature.  Work with your nutritionist to determine the best course in balancing rations for higher energy content in the winter months.

As feed intake increases, so does water intake. If water availability is restricted, feed intake will be reduced. If you do not have a heated waterer, make a point to manually provide warm water several times a day to your cattle. You should also consider increasing energy levels for calves and providing them with plenty of fresh, warm water. Warm water is best as it does not require the calf to use excess energy to heat it to internal body temperature.


Prepare facilities and equipment

While preparing for the needs of animals in the winter is the most important, there are other cold weather preparedness measures you should take to ensure the whole farm (people included) is ready for cold weather. Your facilities are your main defense against the elements in all seasons, so making sure they are properly maintained is key not only to winter preparedness, but to year-round management as well.

Inspect facilities

Check equipment

Equipment in and around your facilities should also be checked over and needed repairs made. Make sure to inspect manure equipment, barn heating equipment, skid steers, tractors, feed mixing equipment, generators, and any other equipment you use regularly. This is also the time to check snow removal equipment and ensure it is in proper working order so it is ready to go for the first big snow fall. When examining equipment, make sure to check batteries and levels of gas and anti-freeze. Speaking of fuel, make sure your farm’s supply is adequate and ready to go for the winter.

Prepare for snow

Around the farm yard, consider any preparations that need to be made related to blowing and melting snow. This may include putting up snow fence or planning snow breaks to minimize drifting near driveways and walking paths. November is also the time to consider fill for areas that get muddy or troublesome during snow melt.

Prepare an emergency action plan

It is important to consider what should be done in cases of extreme winter weather. Preparing an emergency action plan is a critical part of year-round risk management. If you have not worked on a plan before, creating one for winter is a great place to start.

A plan should include:


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