I enjoy operating my micro dairy year-round though I have to admit: spring and fall are my favorite times of the year. I am not a fan of the extremes of winter or summer. I can get the most work done when the temperatures are moderate and, at 63 years old, I tend to hide from the high summer sun rather than bask in it. At least during the winter I can put more clothes on to stay warm outside.
Lighting. Winter certainly does present its own set of conditions that farmers in snow country must adjust to every fall. First, there is darkness; it is dark when I wake up and dark when I do my evening chores. Having good lighting inside the barns and out is very important. The flood light outside my barn has a motion detector so it turns on and lights up the barnyard when the cows or I go outside when it is dark. That is very helpful. I also recommend installing lighting in the sheds or other outbuildings where you work in the winter. But don’t feel the need to do everything all at once. Every fall I like to make one or two minor improvements to my Micro Dairy in preparation for the winter.
Pre-snow prep. Next there is the snow, and when it snows there is always plowing and shoveling. In the fall, I try to make sure that the areas where I push the snow are open and clear. That means making sure that my firewood is stacked and all my machinery is out of the way. I take down temporary fencing next to the road and driveways. Plowing snow is non-productive at best so I do all I can to eliminate complications and or opportunities to damage my tractor or other pieces of equipment.
Downsizing the herd. I have to admit that sometimes the thought of the coming winter in Vermont can be a little daunting, especially if you operate your micro dairy alone, as I do. Back when my wife and I had a larger farm and milked 70 Jersey cows, our kids were younger and chore time was a family affair. Everyone pitched in. But now it is just me, trudging up to the barn in the snow and cold every morning and night. Since I am neither a hero nor a martyr, this winter I decided to lighten my load and sell two of my four cows. I kept one bred heifer and one milking cow so I would have milk to feed a beefer calf I am raising. Doing that essentially cut my chore time in half and reduced the hay and grain I will feed out this winter by 50 percent.
Milking cows twice a day can get tiresome, especially when you also have a day job. It is important to remember that having a small farm or a micro dairy allows you the flexibility to sell a few, or, even all of your cows and take a break for a season or two. If you have a larger herd you can sell your milkers and keep your calves and heifers and get back into it slowly when they begin to come into milk. The choice is yours. There is no dishonor in taking a little break.
Work smarter, not harder. I believe the keys to preparing for the upcoming winter of a Micro Dairy in regions that get cold, snowy and dark at 4 p.m. are first to make small improvements to your facility that will make it easier, quicker and more efficient to operate. Make a list of any small annoyances from the previous winter that you can correct. And then look for opportunities to reduce your workload wherever and however possible. Selling two cows and putting lights in the shed adjacent to my barn has made a huge difference for me this winter. Owning and managing a micro dairy is a matter of choice. Don’t allow yourself to get stuck in drudgery.
Keep making small improvements to your farm and routines and soon the warm spring winds will once again blow and the grass on south facing slopes will begin to green up. In the meantime, button up!
Steve Judge has been involved with the dairy industry for 45 years as a farm hand, farm owner, farm manager, and marketing entrepreneur. He is the founder of Bob-White Systems Inc., an innovative internet business that sells milking and milk handling equipment to smaller, sustainable, community-based dairies across the U.S. Watch Steve’s YouTube videos on small-scale dairying, connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest, and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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