Wintertime still busy for farmers

It’s wintertime, so farmers are on vacation. Right? No.

For some types of farmers – for example, grain farmers – wintertime is a less busy time of year, but there is still a lot of planning and equipment maintenance in preparation for the spring.

Farmers who have animals are always busy, especially dairy farmers.

A cow’s health is of the utmost importance to dairy farmers because proper animal care leads to the production of high-quality milk. Nutritious diets, healthy living conditions and good medical care are all essential for a healthy herd.

One of the dairy farmer’s top priorities is to provide food and shelter. Dairy cows always have access to feed and fresh, clean water. Farmers employ professional nutritionists to develop a scientifically formulated, balanced and nutritious diet for their cows.

It is a joke among many farmers that the cows’ diet is more managed than anyone working on the farm.

Many of today’s dairy farms use “free stall housing,” which is a type of barn that allows cows to eat and sleep whenever and wherever they choose. Rubber mats and other nonslip flooring are used in barns to make it easier to move around, especially in cold winter weather. Cows may sleep on waterbeds, sand beds or mattresses made of rubber, foam or a combination of the two.

Protecting dairy cows from the cold while providing adequate air ventilation is also important to keeping the cows healthy. Many barns are equipped with curtains that can be lowered to increase ventilation. The use of such curtains during the unseasonably warm weather earlier this week sure made the cows more comfortable.

Timely health and medical attention is another priority. Daily milkings allow the farmer to interact directly with each cow. Feeding time for younger animals twice a day allows time for general cow comfort assessments.

Cows receive regular veterinary care, including periodic checkups – usually once a month – preventive vaccinations and prompt treatment of illness. It is important to note that dairy cows are not routinely treated with antibiotics.

When antibiotics are used to treat a clinically diagnosed illness, the cow is taken from the milking herd and treated. She is not put back into the milking herd until her milk tests free of antibiotics.

Coming from a family with many generations of dairy farmers, it is safe to say that the cows see their doctor more often than the farmer sees his doctor.

These ”quality of life” issues are a 24/7 concern for dairy farmers. Add the winter weather and it can get complicated. Frozen pipes or water fountains are a big problem when you have adult cows that can each drink 30 to 50 gallons of water a day. Frigid temperatures can lead to frozen feed, which cows generally do not like. Just as the drastic temperature changes this week can affect people, it can also affect the cows.

Dairy farmers aren’t busy with field work in the wintertime, but they are definitely not on vacation.

Mary Smallsreed is a member of Trumbull County Farm Bureau and grew up on a family dairy farm in northeast Ohio.