Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Winter vs. Cows

A frosty look at the farm...pretty to look at, hard to work in.

Well, winter is here.  It was inevitable.  Forecasts call for even colder temperature for the weekend (Sunday might not even make it above 0!).  Cold is usually harder on the people working with our cows than the actual cows.  We work hard to prevent any problems the cows might have with the cold. 

First we provide them shelter from the snow, cold, wind, and moisture.  Our barns are made to be cool inside.  Right now the manure is freezing to the alleys, so you ask...why don't you heat the barn.  There's a major problem with that....cows have winter hair!  Cows grow a thick coat of hair each winter, by putting them in a heated barn they would sweat heavily and catch a "cow cold".  Instead of warming the cows, we allow their hair to insulate them.  We work hard to keep them dry and comfortable with fresh bedding often.  With that thick hair they hardly notice the cool temps. 

The cold dry air is drying out my skin.  My hands are cracked....and it is also drying out our cows' skin.  We use a special teat dip for our cows with lots of moisturizers in it (just like a lotion).  We also make sure that cows leaving the parlor have dry teats, because wet teats can get skin damage and in extreme cold even frost bite!

The calves are the most susceptible to the cold weather.  New calves are quickly moved from the calving pen.  New wet calves can very easily get frost bite (especially their ears!), so we swiftly dry them off, put them in a calf coat, bed them in with lots of straw, and feed them lots of warm colostrum.  As they grow we make sure to increase the calories that we feed them.  Cold weather means they are using more of their own energy to stay warm, so we compensate for that by feeding extra milk each day.  Calves also have unlimited access to calf starter. 

Older heifers also eat extra calories and enjoy extra bedding.  All of the extra effort is worth it, knowing our cows are doing just takes a lot of extra time and work on our part.  So...chores are taking a lot longer than they would in fall, spring or summer....bear with us, it's going to be another long Minnesota Winter.


  1. Its great to read that you treat your cows with such warmth and friendliness - I really enjoy reading your blog - keep up the good work.

    All I can hope is that we get something like this up and running for the Australian dairy industry.

    Keep writing.



  2. Thank You! I hope you will be able to do the same as well. It's great to see dairy producers from all parts of the world sharing their stories!

  3. Different brands of milk taste this because each dairy brand (in store) uses different breeds of cows? I've tried dairy websites and cannot find any information about the type of cows they get their milk from. Where does your milk go?

  4. ladycrete: Awesome question! In college I was required to take a class on dairy products judging (taste testing) so I can definitely answer this one! The #1 flavor that most consumers pick up on is a oxidized flavor (tastes like milk from cereal or a slight metallic hint) This flavor is caused with milk is exposed to light. Light causes minerals & vitamins to act differently, releasing the flavors...this milk is perfectly safe, it just tastes different. So, if you want to avoid this flavor, buy milk in solid white plastic jugs or cartons or always dig for the milk furthest from any light sources. I always dig to the back for my milk!
    Different breeds of cows do actually cause different flavors as well! We don't usually sort milk by the breed it originated from, but back a few years ago a milk called Guernsey Gold was sold solely from Guernsey dairy cows, who were noted for their golden colored in beta carotene since they can't digest it from the grasses they ate. This milk did taste different! Brown Swiss & Jersey milk are higher in protein and butter fat naturally, when compared to a Holstein (what we have) as a result their milk also tastes different.
    Another factor is feed sources. Cows exposed to different feeds (silages, grains, grasses, hays, pastures, etc...) each produce different flavors as well. Cows have this amazing ability to take an arroma that they smell and turn it into a flavor in their milk. So milk from grass/pasture fed cows does taste differently than a silage/hay/grain fed cow, just from the smells. Interestingly, you can crush a clove of garlic in front of a cow hours before milking, and produce a garlic tinted flavor in her milk! searched for where dairies get their milk from...which breeds? Well, Holsteins (black & white) are the most popular & do supply the most milk, jereseys (smaller brown cows) are the 2nd highest & are growing in popularity. As I said before, most dairies don't segregate their milk by breed unless labeled on the carton.
    Our milk stays in MN for the most part. We sell our milk to a local cooperative, which makes cheese, dried whey, dried milk protein powders, and calcium & lactose products. Our milk mostly stays in MN as cheese, but some of our cheese has been known to be sold to FritoLay & Nestle...and it could be overseas, as our cooperative does sell dried products overseas! I hope this helps! Please ask if you have more questions!


I write this blog to share my passion for my cows and farming, please be respectful of that. I reserve the right to delete those comments which portray hate, call names, and are out right disrespectful. If you have an honest question, I will respond, to explain what we do on our farm, why we do it and how we do it. Please read with an open mind. My time to blog is short, as most of our days are spent caring for our beloved cows. Thank you!