Oh, the challenges of dairy farming in the winter (ever see manure boil?)


We have had some pretty cold days this winter, but not quite as cold as it has been in the past. Taking a look back at 2007, maybe 2013 isn’t quite as bad…

We needed frozen ground. Mud was getting old. Non-farm types complained about the cold, but those whose manure storages were filling were glad to see sustained temps below freezing.

(OK, so no wind chills would have been nice since temps have been well below freezing.)


The sound of water spraying. Not a good sound in January when the mercury hadn’t risen above 20 degrees.
The first cold weather casualty was the frost-free hydrant with a “regular” valve attached to make watering calves easier. It worked great as long as the valve was left open to drain after each feeding. The night calf feeder forgot.

The 18-inch icicle hanging from the hydrant and the ice mural sprayed against the side of the garage were proof that it wasn’t a good idea to forget.


Prolonged cold weather brings interesting consequences. Will each piece of machinery or equipment start when the switch is flipped or ignition turned? Did the last person remember to plug in the engine-block warmers? Will the power stay on?

Manure equipment capacity diminishes daily as a thin film of each load freezes onto the inside of spreaders, scrapers and manure loaders. By last week, one of the loader buckets was nearly full with frozen manure. The answer? Build a small fire and prop the bucket over it. Ever see manure boil?

Heifers step carefully across their outside lot, manure frozen firmly into a rough surface. The outside of water fountains are covered with ice flows where cows and heifers slop water. All have worked beautifully except for a brief glitch in the dry cow pen. They just don’t keep as much water flowing through the waterers as the lactating cows, and it showed.

Calves nestle into deep beds of straw in hutches and pens, the better to stay warm. Their water buckets aren’t so lucky and become ice buckets within hours of feeding.

Stack empty milk buckets to take into the milk house to wash and get them there fast. If they sit outside more than a few minutes, the stack will be frozen together.

On a more cheery note

The bright side has been clear days and lots of sunshine. (OK, and the fact that during the week I’m in my office and not out in the barn.) The days are getting longer, too.

I have a few moments to appreciate this as I wait for my boot laces, damp from washing up and now frozen solid, thaw before the knots will come loose.

I’ve spent less time working outside this winter than any I can remember. I’m not complaining about that, and I did get a pretty good stint in over Christmas when two of the guys were sick while I was “on vacation.”

While I have tried to block some of those hours, I do recall a lot of cold and blowing snow coming from all directions.

We really appreciate the “new” calf barn even though a few heaters in water fountains had to be replaced. Water buckets still freeze, but not quite as often as in hutches. It takes longer to pasteurize the calf milk when it starts out really, really, cold. They have to set the transfer buckets inside the barn because it will freeze if left outside.

The weird cold/warm (i.e. frozen ground/mud everywhere) weather swings are hard on both people and animals. As challenging as it is, it won’t last too much longer.

When I left the office tonight, it was snowing, but it was after 6 p.m. and it was still kind of light out, a sure sign that spring is just around the corner…

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  1. Ah, Dianne. Your words remind me of why I’m happy I don’t have any livestock right now. There are days that I would love to be in a barn with cows, but not when the water lines are freezing and there are icicles hanging from the calves muzzles. I’ve always disliked falling, especially with a pail of milk. Only the neighbor’s underfed dog appreciated those frozen treats. And then, there’s the barnyard. Frozen hunks hiding, ready to stop the scraper or grab a boot. Give me a warm day, no mud and bright sunshine. Guess I’ve become a truly sunshine only farmer!
    Thanks for your well written words.


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