Baby It’s Cold Outside
Keeping dairy cows safe, healthy and warm depends on more than the weather. Although being in the Midwest, weather extremes do have a big impact on animal care (cows don’t like January’s bitter cold any more than we do). It also depends on the animal’s age – dairy cattle have special needs as they grow. While the care we give them at each stage of life might be different, the level of care always remains our top priority.
Keeping Cows Safe, Healthy and Warm at Every Age
Calf stage = individual calf huts
Our baby calves are housed in a calf barn, each with their own calf hut and curtain sides that can be opened and closed depending on the temperature outside. The calves are brought to this barn within a few hours after birth. Then, it’s time to get their health off to a good start. Each calf gets:
- A nasal vaccine to help prevent pneumonia.
- An oral vaccine to protect against scours (diarrhea).
- A spray of iodine on their umbilical cords to protect against infection.
At about two months, our calves are weaned off milk and put in groups of four to six in areas that provide outdoor access. They’re taken care of here for 30 to 50 days and then moved to a farm just down the road where they remain in their groups until they are about 10 months old. Here, they also have access to a barn and the outdoors.
Heifer stage = pasture living
At 10 months, the heifers (young females) spend their days on pasture in the spring, summer and fall. They don’t have a barn, but do have a wooded area for shade and shelter. When the weather starts getting cold, we bring them into the barn for the winter.
Momma cow stage = in and out
Our milk cows, dry cows (don’t supply milk) and pregnant heifers (first-time moms) are all housed in free-stall barns with curtain sides that can open and close and have access to pastures or dirt lots in dry weather. The barns have fans and sprinklers for hot summer weather. This may surprise you, but when it’s warmer than 70 degrees, the cows prefer to be in the barn. We use sand bedding because it doesn’t hold bacteria, which helps prevent mastitis (an infection in the udder). Plus, the cows love it!