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Winter survival on the dairy

Tracey Erickson for Progressive Dairyman Published on 04 November 2016
Winter survival on the dairy

Weather this time of year can change in a hurry. So how many of you, as dairy producers, have heeded the warning and taken the time to prepare for the upcoming winter?

Let’s start with some basic areas such as in and around the barn. First, take the time in the yard to pick up any items that may become buried under a snow bank or entangled in a snow blower. Next, put up appropriate snow fence or snow breaks in yards for protection and minimizing of drifts in areas where they are not wanted.



Consider bringing in any necessary fill or mounding areas that become muddy or troublesome spots in the spring.

Take a look at your barn maintenance list, noting areas that sometimes get pushed off onto the “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow list”– such as the following:

  1. Check curtains on barns to make sure they are operating properly and repair any holes or tears.

  2. Check and maintain ventilation fans including tightening belts and keeping blades and louvers clean.

  3. Look upward, inspect and repair building roofs and rafters, making sure there is no loose tin or cracked rafters present.

  4. Maintain and repair any doors in freestall barns that may not open or close properly.

  5. Check and clean barn heaters to make sure they are operating properly.

  6. Outside the facilities, trim tree limbs around barns, driveways and fences that may break off in winter storms.

In the winter, Murphy’s Law will prevail and equipment will break down or have problems on one of those extremely cold days, making repair work miserable. So what are some things to consider regarding winter equipment maintenance and preparation?

First, test and service your generators and make sure there is adequate fuel on hand to run them. Second, winterize and service farm equipment such as tractors, semis, skid loaders, pay loaders, feed mixing wagons, manure pumps, etc.

Producers will want to take time to check anti-freeze levels, batteries and fuel filters, as these items routinely cause issues in cold weather. Third, examine snow blowers or other snow-removal equipment and make sure it is in proper working order.


Fourth, obtain and store enough fuel (No. 1 diesel or 50-50 blend) to run equipment for an extended period of time. (A two-week supply is suggested.)

As we move to the basics of sustaining life, we think of food, water and shelter. Our livestock have the same needs, so let’s examine the feed and water checklist first:

  1. Clean and check heating elements in all water drinking fountains.

  2. Repair any water fountains or water lines that may be leaking. Ice buildup is a hazard to livestock and humans.

  3. Have adequate feed supplies moved in for easy access to the dairy farm. It is recommended to have a two-week supply of purchased feedstuffs.

As we examine the shelter and health side, what is necessary to keep animals healthy and protected on the dairy?

  1. Move calf hutches to areas that are easily accessible in the winter and provide wind protection for young livestock.

  2. Have a two-week supply of veterinary supplies commonly used on the dairy such as intramammary mastitis treatments, antibiotics, electrolytes, calcium solutions, antiseptics, bandages, needles and syringes.

  3. Start utilizing calf coats on newborn calves until they are weaned.

  4. Provide adequate bedding for all livestock, making sure it is deep enough for them to nestle in to enhance body heat production.

  5. Examine body condition and hair coat of various groups of livestock; adjust rations appropriately for cold weather.

  6. Evaluate housing for livestock in open lots, making sure there is adequate wind protection and the ability to get bedding pack built up for them prior to poor weather.

Lastly, some other miscellaneous items to consider include the following:

  • Develop a plan with milk haulers and milk buyers for options if milk is unable to be picked up for an extended period of time.

  • Partner with neighbors and develop a plan if it is necessary to do your own snow removal on public-access roads.

Obviously, there may be things you will need to add to this list, as each farm is unique, but it will serve as a starting point.

It is my hope that this checklist will help you prepare your dairy for the winter season ahead and benefit you as you put your winter preparedness plan into action while simultaneously making those cold winter mornings less stressful.  end mark


PHOTO: Winter on a dairy. Photo by Jenna Hurty-Person.

Tracey Erickson is a South Dakota State University Dairy Field Specialist. Email Tracey Erickson.