Autumn: Your Last Chance to Winter Prep

Published on Mon, 08/12/2019 - 3:45pm

 Autumn: Your Last Chance to Winter Prep.

 By Jaclyn Krymowski.

 To the dairyman, autumn weather means more than colorful, picturesque rural American imagery. On the more practical side, it creates an atmosphere of changing seasons which allows for a managerial transition between the dog days of summer and harshness of winter. And while many pause to enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting another full bunker of silage and cashing in those crops, they must also seize the opportunity to set up for the less satisfying season ahead. Now is the perfect time to make sure you have everything in place for the peace of mind, and comfort of cows and employees to outwinter the days ahead.

Around the barns
There’s a multitude of patch-up jobs and small to major maintenance tune-ups which will become quite difficult, if not impossible, in the thick of mid-winter. For example, one thing which can go unnoticed until too late are areas prone to collecting and holding excess water, mud and/or manure. This becomes not only hazardous, but just plain frustrating to work around when the frozen buildup impedes closing doors and creates poor maneuverability for equipment.  This also greatly increases the risk of cow slippage and hoof damage if it accumulates in highly-trafficked and holding areas. Think about these areas now and imagine what they’ll be like below freezing Is it time to put down gravel or concrete in low spots? Are there leaky gutters, faulty plumbing and other contributing issues that have been put off?

This is also an optimal time to critically look at your manure storage ad holding capacity. It’s never recommended to spread on frozen or snow-covered ground, and if your stores are getting a bit full now would be an ideal time to haul and spread on an available field. Also of note, as you retire haying and other seasonal equipment, it pays to give them a final go-over and do any maintenance and updates if necessary. Pay mind to the machines you intend to be using all winter and make sure they’re in sharp condition to tackle the demands on them in freezing temperatures.

Another point that sometimes gets overlooked are air ventilation systems. As animals, especially calves, spend more time in closed barns during the winter respiratory disease risk runs higher. Be sure to check your ventilation and fans to ensure your air quality won’t be sacrificed in the months ahead. Think about automatic watering systems as well, what do you have in place to prevent them from freezing? Are spare heaters and extension cords readily available?

If you are in a location where the winter weather is exceptionally harsh, it might not hurt to look at your “plan of action” in case of a power outage or severe snowstorms. Check out backup generators, fuel stores and essentials such as snow plows and salt.

For the herd
Mid to late fall is likely your very last chance to take inventory on a farm’s major consumables – feed and bedding. Chances are you have a pretty good gage on how much feed it will take you to get through the winter, and many herd managers have this secured well in advance for the winter months. Bedding, however, is sometimes be overlooked as its usage can be quite volatile in the winter months.

It takes more bedding in the keep animals comfortable through a rough winter, and it is even more critical to keep it dry and regularly refreshed. This is especially true when it comes to young calves and at-risk cows such as the hospital, fresh and calving pens. Adding a layer or sawdust or sand as the base of a pen pack can help absorb moisture and keep straw dryer for longer.

Also, good to note, be aware of the potential need have more calf feed on hand than usual to get through the cold months. Many nutritionists recommend increasing grain and milk for calves as the weather changes to meet the caloric demand for generating additional body heat in the cold. Interestingly, a USDA National Animal Health Monitoring System study found only about a third of calf managers changed their feeding practices to accommodate for the cold weather. Something to consider.

The autumn season is frequently seen as an optimal time to evaluate and, if necessary, treat internal and external parasites. If you haven’t had your herd formally checked for parasitic issues, not would be a great time to ask your vet for an evaluation of your deworming program and see how its holding up. While you’re at it, don’t forget to pay special attention to your growing heifers and any other animals that may be housed outdoors or in pasture part or all through the winter. Providing extra hay and some feed and/or mineral supplementation are all important to maintain a desirable BCS and additional warmth when grazing becomes unavailable.

Besides thinking about the grueling months ahead, don’t forget to enjoy the little break the autumn weather provides. It’s a rare time of year where annoying insects, scorching heat, and frigid cold all give way to somewhat comfortable weather that will make the daily grind a bit more enjoyable.