Preparing for winter

Perhaps it is difficult to imagine but winter is just around the corner in the northern hemisphere. With temperatures dropping outside and inside the barn, issues with frozen water hoses, cords and water troughs may occur. In cases of extreme frost, even manure can freeze to slatted floors. All of these issues will affect your cow’s visit behaviour, yield and, last but not least, your own workload and efficiency. Overall, we can say that prevention is better than cure. Therefore, here are some tips to prepare you for the winter.

Management, Milking

Mechanical issues
• If you use heaters within your robot area try and test them in advance. 
• If your robot area is sensitive to cold airflow think ahead about how to stop this and what kind of materials you might need. Buy these materials in advance.
• Typical rough/worn out cup cords are more sensitive to frost. Check your cup cords and replace them when necessary. In addition, you could spray them with silicone.
• Check/calibrate the correct proportion of water/chemicals for cleaning.
• If you are using a so-called ‘heating ribbon’ for your water supply, check its function. If you have insulated your water pipes, visually check the insulation.
• If you are using a boiler for heating your water (Calm/ Astronaut), check that the boiler is working properly and is reaching the desired temperature.
• Ask yourself whether your footbath management should be adjusted to wintertime. Do I need a footbath as regularly as in summertime? Do I want a footbath in freezing cold temperatures?
• Extreme frost can cause manure to freeze to your floor. Therefore, consider whether you should increase the number of your Discovery manure scraper rounds. 
• Keep a good supply of salt for scattering on the floors, particularly slatted floors.

Think in advance about any mechanical issues that could occur on your farm in wintertime and act proactively. 

Besides mechanical matters, you should consider adapting your cow management to suit the weather conditions. Calves, for example, need more energy to help them retain their body temperatures. Therefore, give the calf its colostrum as soon as possible and, if necessary, install a heat-lamp to dry off its coat. In addition, the bedding should be clean and dry. A simple way to test this is to kneel down for 3 minutes. If your knees are still dry and warm, then your calf will remain dry and warm too. Do not expose calves to cold winds or  draughts.

Large water troughs among herds do not freeze over as easily as individual water troughs of separated/sick cows. To prevent water troughs from freezing over and as a proactive measure, make an extra round trough available in the barn and pay extra attention to water troughs. Pay extra attention to sick cows lying down as their body temperatures will drop more easily. A cow blanket can help prevent this and stimulate the recovery of the specific cow.

Cows or calves housed on straw or a compost bedding may need some extra dry material to prevent moisture on the top layer.

Young calves have a relatively large body surface compared to their muscle tissue. This means they lose heat quickly. The calves have also not yet developed their rumen function and all the energy must come from the warm milk through the abomasum. When calves are only fed twice a day their body temperature becomes too low 6 – 12 hours after feeding.

Fully grown cows are able to handle cold conditions fairly well. Make sure there is ad lib feed available. During long periods of low temperatures, feed that is stored outside may freeze. Frozen feed is not only difficult to mix but when cows eat too much of it their rumen function becomes upset.