At The Farm GateCattle 'cool' with colder weather
One of my favorite holiday cards routinely arrives at the turn of the New Year. My friend mails photo cards that capture her cattle, sometimes in the romantic calm of winter. One year it was a snow-capped hay bale. Another, it was the steaming breaths of her cows with frost-covered backs. Just looking at that photo, you can feel the frigid air of that winter morning, but the cows appear at peace, content with the cold Illinois landscape.
And they are.
Cows wear leather coats year-round, a clever observation from my cattle-farming cousin. While she and her husband pile insulated bibs, heavy coats, stocking hats, gloves and sub-zero-rated boots in the mudroom this time of year, the cows wear what they need every month of the year. She finds that her cows prefer winter temperatures over those of summer.
Likewise, our farm’s cows lie down to rest in the snow, unbothered by the frozen landscape. If a cold wind blows, the cows huddle together or locate shelter, whether in the barn or natural areas like trees. With help from farmers like my friend, cousin and dad, cattle are incredibly hardy. Daily access to hay provides cattle with their primary energy source in a season when the pasture grass doesn’t grow. Supplements of minerals and protein support overall health. And farmers ensure heating elements remain operable to keep water thawed and fresh in automatic water drinkers.
Livestock caretakers generally dread the weather events that cancel school. Heavy snow means clearing barnyards and driveways to reach the cattle and then scooping paths to their food and water. Still, most cattle farmers will take snow and frozen ground over mud any day. Mud ranks worse than a blizzard, making a mess of the pastures and cattle lots.
Especially with cool temperatures, the wet landscape increases fatality risks for newborn calves in late winter and early spring. The sloppy terrain quite simply makes getting around on hoof or foot a genuine hassle for cows and their farmers, and to the house cleaner’s dismay, the farmhouse mudroom earns its title. In fact, I never expect to see mud on our holiday cards of well wishes.
About the author: Joanie Stiers farms with her family in West-Central Illinois, where they grow corn, soybeans, wheat, hay and cover crops and raise beef cattle and backyard chickens.