Work Now to Gain the Upper Hand in Cold Weather.

Published on Wed, 09/18/2019 - 10:38am

Work Now to Gain the Upper Hand in Cold Weather.

Bruce Derksen

 It’s funny how spring and summer can slip away when a person is not paying attention.  Wasn’t it just yesterday that the spring flowers were blooming, and the first cut of hay was growing thick and green?  Suddenly, harvest is on-going, and neighbors are overheard discussing where and when to sell their grain and weaned calves.  Unfortunately, it is time to prepare for the winter season and all the challenges that it brings.

For dairy operators, these tasks can be roughly divided into infrastructure builds, modifications and upkeep, equipment winterization and feed and diet considerations.

Before jumping into action, do a preliminary accounting of the jobs and projects that must be completed before the first snowflakes fly.  Walk the barns, pens and yards and assess conditions, keeping an eye out for problem areas and unacceptable situations.  There may be more tasks than anticipated, so it is a good idea to keep an ongoing list.  Understandably, this may not fit everyone’s style, but a well-organized priority-based schedule of tasks on a simple computer spreadsheet, or at minimum a hand-written note on a piece of paper stuck to the fridge, has a way of easing stress levels.  Post a list of key emergency contact numbers.  Trying to recall massive amounts of jobs can be overwhelming, but if broken down into groupings with reasonable timelines, it is surprising how manageable things can appear.

Pens, fences, buildings, windbreaks, water supplies and lighting should all be addressed.  Some work is impossible to complete in winter conditions, so be sure to pour any concrete floors, bunks or pads plus add gates or sink posts into the ground before freezing temperatures arrive.  Build or repair any fences, gates and windbreaks well in advance.  Snow fences can be added to troublesome areas as a cost-effective way to control excessive amounts of snow.  Check roof and ventilation fan issues and seal up any areas that allow drafts to barns and outbuildings.

Special attention should be paid to all water line, bowl or trough problems.  Even small water leaks or drips that don’t seem important when the summer sun is shining will become major complications when the mercury dips well below freezing.  Workarounds that are reasonable in summer become much harder or impossible in winter conditions.

Fall is also a good time to service all motorized and mechanical equipment.  Give attention to all tractors, plows, feeding and bedding equipment along with loaders, feed wagons, generators and manure pumps.  Purchase an extra supply of fuel and mix up a new batch of antifreeze.  Clean, cover and store any warm weather equipment that is being put away for the season.  If hauling cattle, be sure trucks and trailers are lined and draft resistant for those winter trips.

Don’t ignore the cow herd’s diet, as it will need to be adjusted with the arrival of colder temperatures and harsh conditions.  Below 32 degrees Fahrenheit, cows need more energy to maintain normal body heat, with younger heifers and calves being even more susceptible to weather demands.  Extra grain, forages and hay will be required to sustain protein and energy needs and consider supplements for milk replacer or whole milk to increase calories.  It is critical during the first few weeks of a calf’s life that it maintains body temperature when the ambient or environmental temperature is outside the thermal neutral zone- the range in which the calf does not need to exert additional energy to warm up in the winter or cool down in the summer.  Young cattle should be using the provided energy and protein for growth and production, not only maintenance.

Minor tasks like locating your winter work clothes, cleaning up any tools and equipment lying around the yard before they are covered by snow, putting together a winter survival kit and cleaning the buildings of unnecessary garbage are time and effort saving.

It sounds like a daunting job when taken as a whole, but if prioritized and organized, it is possible to hold the upper hand when bad weather strikes.  Work early to build an advantage over winter and when she tests you later, as you know she will, you will be prepared and in control.