Preparing your dairy farm for winter


What if this winter was the worst on record…is your farm ready? 

Inspect facilities

When it comes to the worst of winter weather thrashing about, your facilities are your main defense, protecting people, assets and animals. Ensuring they’re properly maintained all year round is best but right before winter they need a thorough check. Make sure things are stored properly or securely where necessary. Note any damage to walls, windows, doors or the roof. Repair what you can immediately and put in place a plan to make larger repairs before its too late.

Check equipment

As with your facilities, your equipment also needs a service and any repairs made before winter sets in. Check batteries, oil, anti-freeze and fuel levels. Speaking of fuel, will your supply be sufficient should access to your property get cut off for a few days due to storm damage, snow or ice?

Prepare for snow

If your farm is in an area known to experience snow, formulate a plan for dealing with it now. This includes shelter for animals, farm access, using equipment safely and planning how you’ll deal with mud created when the snow melts, e.g. filling areas known to turn into potholes with gravel beforehand.

Animal welfare

Just like cows can experience heat stress, so can they when temperatures get into the low single figures or zero and below for sustained periods. Being too cold can increase an animal’s nutrient needs at the same time as lowering the amount of dry matter they’re taking in. Couple that with the increased energy needed to maintain basal body temperature these opposing numbers can have a very negative impact on gut health and production parameters. To help cows get through winter in reasonable comfort and good health they’ll need shelter from rain, windbreaks, fresh dry bedding and additional feed and nutrients.

If you notice the cows’ udders getting chapped and sore, treat them to avoid infection.

If you have young calves under three weeks old check their condition daily; they can begin feeling cold stress at just 15°C. Have calf jackets washed and ready, as well as a sheltered area with clean, dry, comfortable bedding.

Wintering shed

Protecting cows from the elements during winter, promoting better pasture growth and increasing production periods is what our dairy barn systems are designed for. Save your pastures from damage caused by pugging. Keep your herd warm, fed and milking further into the winter season. Set and control your own feed levels. Monitor and maintain herd health. Take control of effluent and future proof against changing regulations. Most of all, improve the value of your business with a state-of-the-art built asset. Learn more. 

Feeding and watering

The energy a dairy cow needs to consume to maintain body weight and production demands can go up by as much as 40% during extreme cold. If they’re not milking through winter it won’t be this high but it will have increased from summer. As a cow eats more they need to also drink more water. If you live in a very cold area, make sure you have a contingency plan to access water in the event of a big ice over.

To ensure cows keep producing well over winter they need a balanced diet. Often cows have 50% (or less) pasture in their winter milk diet, sometimes none. To lessen the cost of supplementary feeding, set your best quality grass silage/baleage aside for them.

Some winter feed insight from Farmlands suggests “eleven ME plus whole-crop silage or maize silage can be used in the base diet, but this requires more protein to balance the diet. Brassica crops (Kale and Rape) or fodder beet can also be used as forage supplements for winter milking herds. Too much brassica (over 25% of diet) can cause milk taint, and fodder beet should be gradually introduced and allocated precisely to prevent rumen acidosis.”

Feeding on a feedpad or in a wintering shed are the most effective ways to minimise wastage of supplements and simultaneously helps prevent paddock damage, preparing you for spring and summer.

Emergency plan

You need to have a plan in place for what should happen in cases of extreme winter weather. It’s basic risk management, a crucial part of any business. You need to think about what you’ll do if access to the farm is cut off. It’s not just about having enough supplies on hand to get through but what you’ll do with the milk if it cannot be collected. What will you do if power goes out? Do you have access to a generator? Can your animals be evacuated? Also, make a list of key numbers to have in an emergency including your dairy company, vet and insurance agent.