Batten Down the Hatches: Winter on the Farm

Something about that title makes me want to wear an eye patch, get a pet parrot named Polly, and end every sentence with “Yaaaaaaarrrrrr.”But this is not a post about pirates, yaaaaaaaaarrrr. This is a post about cows (but not cow pirates). Someday we’ll contemplate a world in which burly cow pirates roam the seas like those mischievous stars of the Chick-fila-A commercials, but not today.

Though Michigan has been experiencing some delightfully mild temperatures lately, I know the winter won’t pass us by. As we enter this second week of January, the suspense is building. The temps are slowly dropping and there’s snow in the forecast. These days it’s not unusual for the nightly lows to be in the 20s. And we’re not even in the throes of winter yet, people! This is the time of year when we have to bundle up from head to toe when entering the great outdoors. But what about our bovine ladies? How do they keep warm in the 4-6 months of blustery cold?

Is there a church group somewhere knitting cow-sized sweaters? Does the Dairy Man fill the water troughs with hot cocoa and marshmallows? Do the ladies huddle around hundreds of space heaters? Not exactly.

We have a few ways to help the cows stave off the chill in winter. First, the Dairy Man closes the curtains. Much like our parlor isn’t frilly and Victorian, the curtains here aren’t lacy and delicate. Rather than silk or cotton, these curtains are made of thick plastic. Each barn has top and bottom curtains that come down on each side. The bottom curtains are almost always down, but the top curtains come down in the colder months. These curtains help protect our cows from blustery winds and keep snow from blowing in and getting the sand beds wet.

Next, the ladies get fluffy. Seriously. Around November each year, I start noticing that the bovine members of our family are sporting some seriously rocking ‘dos.

The Dairy Man also has a few other tricks to keep our dry and milking cows happy. In the winter the feed ration changes slightly to include a higher fat content because the cows burn more energy to stay warm. We also turn on heating units in each drinking trough to keep the water from freezing. And what about the moneymakers on the underside of each cow? When temperatures drop below 15 degrees, DM and his milkers switch to a teat dip (more on that in a future post) that has more conditioners in it to keep the udders from drying out.

When you stop to think, it’s not entirely different from my raging chapstick addiction in the winter. I blame Bonnie Bell, circa 1999.

So that’s how the older and more mature members of our herd weather a Michigan winter. But what about the little guys and gals? The big cows may not get sweaters, but the calves get jackets!

What’s that? Your heart just melted? That’ll happen.

In addition to their stylish jackets, calves are also given more straw for their beds to build forts …er… nests. And visions of sugar drops danced in their heads…

Though this January has been unseasonably warm (I’m entirely in favor of global warming if it means 45 degree heatwaves in the middle of winter), a storm is a’brewing. I’ve lived in Michigan too long not to expect that we will PAY for this nice weather. So when the flakes inevitably fly, the cows and I will bundle up, eat more fat than usual, and dream of green pastures.

Jersey, on the other hand, has found a favorite season and loves to be outside. Curses.

10 thoughts on “Batten Down the Hatches: Winter on the Farm

  1. Love your blog… Makes me smile everytime I read it. As a fellow “townie” you recently started dating the farmer I find what you write about informative.. 🙂 One day I know I’ll be the farmer’s wife and the more I know about his dairy live the better prepared I’ll be..

    1. Thanks! Haha. Jeri, I don’t know if you can ever fully be prepared for life on the farm, but I hope I can help you try! It’s a crazy lifestyle, but I wouldn’t trade it. I’m glad you stopped by!

  2. Since my husband and I were married a little over a year ago, he’s been trying to get me to read/follow some other dairy wives blogs….and I think I just found one 🙂
    I just read your entire archive from Jan 2010 to today and found myself laughing, crying, and shaking my head because of the similarities! Thanks for sharing your story and I’m looking forward to more!


    1. Thanks, Tricia! I’m so glad you found things in here to relate to. When I started writing I was SHOCKED to discover how many women like me are out there in the world. Who knew? It’s a great community to have in the midst of the insanity that is farming.

  3. Dare I say Holy Cow, you’ve gathered quite a following. Though farm girl in another life, I’ve never seen baby cow sweaters – and yes, my heart did melt an inkling. Thank God for those church ladies knitting them together for those little fluffy troopers 😉 The snow is flyin’ out west and probably headed your way; if you’d like to embrace it, bundle up and we’ll go to the mountain. Better yet, we could send the boys to the mountain and eat some peanut butter blondies like those in the oven currently. Hope you have a pom pommed hat to keep your noggin warm and a fluffy North Face Jacket, or something of the like. Keep well in Michiland!

  4. I’d love to see a follow-up post on how DM deals with the snow and the cold, i.e. the extra work. (pushing snow, worrying about cows calving in the cold, waterers freezing up, how the wind is pure evil when it’s cold, etc.) It would make me feel tons better that I’m not alone when that stuff happens:) I continue to love your posts:)

    1. Thanks, Amy. Things do seem to get SO much harder during the winter. And it’s supposed to be our slow season! Thankfully it’s been really mild this winter – I am a fan of global warming.

      But I feel in my bones that winter isn’t over yet…

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