Taking care of the cows when it's -20 - Heartstone Farm

Taking care of the cows when it's -20

By Dan Kaplan

For over a week, weather forecasters have been talking about the frigid air headed our way Friday through Saturday.

It's coming - some of the coldest temperatures in decades. The wind chill could reach -50 with strong winds. 

It's scary stuff when you have animals living outside. 

Of course, there are a few natural ways cows deal with cold weather. 

Their thick skin, coarse hair and natural insulation help them stay warm. They actually prefer cooler temps to warmer ones and are happiest between 40 and 65 degrees Farenheight. That said, they are able to stay warm in much cooler temps thanks to the warmth of their fellow barn-mates.

They eat more to stay warm - for every degree below 30F, they need 1% more feed to maintain their body temp. Otherwise they will burn fat to stay warm - something we don’t want them to do. So we have increased their feed over the past few days. 

They always need (and have access to) fresh water - but it’s especially critical during a cold snap like the one that’s coming. (Cows can drink 20-30 gallons of water a day!)

Percy, our farm manager, Tara, and I were planning to go visit another farm - in Vermont - on Friday. But we decided to postpone the trip - figuring we should be here - to keep an eye on things when things got really cold. 

The cold isn’t the real concern when you’re talking about cattle in the winter here in Maine. It’s the wind, wet and mud that are the real concerns. 

This weekend we’re not concerned about the mud or the wet. 

But the wind - that’s going to be ugly on Friday and Saturday night. Coming from the north (as it usually does in the winter), at 45 mph or more. 

In the winter, our cattle have access to the outdoors, but they also have a shelter with bedding (sawdust), their feed and, of course, water.

The shelter has a roof, and walls on two sides - the east and the north. So they’ll be protected from the wind. 

When I first got started with cattle here in Maine ten years ago, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea that they’d be fine in such cold. But they are. Just like the deer in the woods.

I’d rather stay inside on Friday night and Saturday. But Percy will be checking on the cattle often - and they’ll likely give him a look like “What’s up? We’re fine.”

By Sunday, the forecast is for temperatures back into the 30’s, which should feel positively balmy - to both farmers and cows.

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