Winter temperatures bring additional challenges and considerations to the table for dairy producers. As temperatures drop, calves’ energy requirements increase. Calves under 21 days of age require more energy when temperatures fall below 60° Fahrenheit and also require 30 percent more energy simply for maintenance when temperatures fall below 30° F.
Bedding is a good source of insulation; as such, to reduce heat loss, keep calves dry and well-bedded. Dry straw bedding up to their knees provides good insulation and reduces their chance of contracting respiratory disease. In addition, clean, dry calf jackets can increase the internal temperature of a calf by up to 25° F.
Feeding calves three times a day will help stabilize the rumen pH while simultaneously adding more energy during cold temperatures. Additionally, provide free-choice warm water right after feeding to get the calves drinking water before they lie down. Remember, warm water freezes faster than cold water.
Speaking of water, dairy cows must drink water or they will not eat. Since water is a key ingredient in making milk, be sure that the waterers are clean and not frozen. Cows prefer plate cooler water because it is warmer than well water. With a thermometer, check waterers with heaters to determine if elements are working properly. An ideal water temperature is between 40–65° F.
- Ventilation – prevent draft
Dairy cows will do quite well in cold temperatures, provided they are dry and protected from wind and drafts. Cows can tolerate temperatures as low as -20° F if wind speeds are below five miles per hour. On the other hand, high winds of 35 miles per hour and temperatures above 15° F can cause problems for dairy cows.
With cold weather, it is important to prevent drafts; cows need a dry, draft-free resting place. Patch holes in curtains, minimize gaps at the ends of curtains and seal around doors where wind can blow through. In stall barns, proper maintenance of barn wall fans is key to good ventilation. Adjust and replace belts and keep shutters and other parts clean and lubricated. Fresh air inlets must allow air into the barn to replace “old air.” Regardless of the type of barn, it is important to have ample amounts of dry bedding. Keep the back of the stall groomed or scraped. If walkways become frozen and slippery, put down lime to allow for better traction.
- Prevent frostbite
Another critical area to consider when it comes to mature cows is whether they are exiting the parlor into wind chill conditions that can lead to frostbite and frozen teats. It is very important that teats are dry when leaving the parlor during cold weather. Dairy scientists suggest that, in severely cold weather, even the film of milk should be dried before cows leave the parlor. Instead of skipping the post-dip, it is better to post-dip the teats and allow 30 seconds of contact time before wiping the teats dry. Use germicidal dips that contain 5–12 percent multi-skin conditioners to reduce chapping or cracking of teat skin. Avoid washing teats with water in cold weather.
- Mastitis (Dry and single udder)
Finally, in cold weather — or during the summer — reducing the places that organic matter can stick to a cow is critical to managing somatic cell count and mastitis. To prevent this from happening, singeing udders just prior to calving, at dry-off and during lactation, when the hair is visibly long, is suggested. Following this standard operating procedure (SOP) reduces the sediment load in the milk filter, makes it easier to prep cows and reduces the risk of environmental mastitis. This procedure can be done in head-locks or in the close-up area — but not in the parlor, if all possible.