How to Prepare Your Micro Dairy for Winter

Reader Contribution by Steve Judge
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People without a dairy background simply cannot imagine how many things need to be done every day on a dairy farm. It is a very busy life. If something goes wrong, or if there is a problem that demands an hour or so of extra, unscheduled, work, then you go to bed an hour later. As a result, it is important that every task becomes routine so that you can do your chores without making mistakes.

Most dairy farmers do their daily chores at the same time and during the same day of the week every week. When I had a larger farm with 90 Jersey cows to milk and 250 head to care for, Wednesdays and Sundays were the days when we did routine maintenance of the milking equipment, tractors and other machinery. This way, we knew that those vital functions would not be overlooked. The milking equipment would be clean and functioning properly, and the tractors would be greased and lubricated. We milked the cows every day at 6 a.m. and at 5:30 p.m. We always cleaned the barn right after morning milking and tried to finish chores by 9 a.m. so that we would be free to get non-routine items, like field work, firewood prep, pasture mowing, etc., done. I have to admit that one of my greatest joys during these years was getting the chance to take a 15-minute afternoon nap during breaks in the action. This happened rarely!

Seasonal changes are very disruptive for cold-climate dairy farms. In fact, I don’t know one Vermont dairy farmer who looks forward to the coming of winter. The change in weather means that many on-farm routines must change. Surprisingly, the same unwanted disruption occurs when winter turns to spring. Suddenly, fences need to be mended, water lines to the pastures need to be repaired, the lanes traveled by the cows on their way to pasture needed to be graded and smoothed. Plus, the cows need to adjust to life on the pasture again. The routine on a dairy farm can be so dominant that it can cloud a farmer’s judgment. Case in point, I have seen farmers keep their cows in the barn all summer to avoid breaking their winter routine. Cows—like farmers—don’t like changes in routines, but even they want and need to be outside in the summer.

As we inch toward winter here in Vermont, we prepare to make some pretty extreme changes to our routines in order to adapt to the snow and extreme cold that is coming. The major difference for the farm in the winter is that the cows can’t graze on the pasture. Seems pretty obvious, but it takes some adjusting. In place of fresh pasture, I feed my cows stored feed. Like most cows, mine don’t love to be outside in the cold and snow. Even so, I try to let them out for at least an hour per day while I clean the barn. When I do this, they look at me like I am nuts and hang out by the door until I let them back in. Of course they like the barn. It is cozy, well ventilated and they have soft mattresses to lie down on. Plus, good feed is always in reach.

In the next few blogs I will cover what I am doing to prepare my micro dairy for the coming of winter. Big changes are in store for my barn, the cows, and my own personal daily routine. Keep reading for my tips to make the transition a smooth one, and please feel free to reach out to me via Bob-White Systems at 802-763-2777.

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