While we experienced a relatively mild December, temperatures and conditions have quickly changed. With several more months of potentially brutal cold temperatures, it’s important to refresh our memory on increased cow comfort and animal health procedures during the winter.

Teat freeze and healthy udders are always a concern, regardless of the temperature. It’s important to remember wind chill is the driver in the winter time, not necessarily what the thermometer says. Teat freeze can occur when the wind chill hits the low, single digits and below. Along with winter teat-dip, maintaining sound milker protocols is essential to milk quality and udder health. Be sure milkers use clean towels and rub teat ends carefully to eliminate dirt without causing undue breaking of the skin which can lead to greater infection. Also, limit drastic temperature fluctuations when moving cattle. This can cause greater likelihood for teat cracking.

Proper ventilation in the winter is a balance of clean air exchange and elimination of cold drafts, particularly in tie-stall and stanchion barns. Maintaining clean air flow throughout the winter with properly functioning curtains and doors will help reduce the buildup of humidity and keep clean, fresh air moving through the barn. I knew a dairyman who walked through his barn with shorts on (his knees where at udder level) so he could feel the temperature on his legs as well as any drafts of cold air.

General cow comfort needs to be maintained with proper and frequent grooming of stalls. Most bedding of stalls is warmer than you think and bacteria growth is still an issue in winter time. Keep bedding fresh and clean and pay particular attention to outside stalls in free-stall barns where improper maintenance and attention can lead to infrequent or discontinued use by animals and overcrowding on inside stalls.

Maintain access to fresh water and plenty of feed. In the first quarter of 2014, feed intake was down for many dairy herds and what feed made it into the cows was primarily preserving body condition during bouts of extreme cold. Make sure feed is regularly pushed up and that any frozen chunks of feed are removed. Keep feed alley’s scraped and clean so cows can properly access feed.

By: Matthew Lange, AgStar Business Consultant

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