Winter Weather on a Dairy Farm
Winter is here! Last week, Barry and Joelle Hess’s daughter got a message on Facebook from a neighbor. With over a foot of snow, their neighbor couldn’t get from their home to feed their animals and was asking for help, so Barry was volunteered for the job – tractors come in handy!
It’s been quite a crazy week for Utah & Nevada dairy farmers. A big winter storm dropped over a foot of snow in many areas, and blowing wind created large drifts and challenging conditions for farmers and cows. Last week’s 15+ inches of snow plus freezing cold temperatures (the thermometer read minus 22 last Friday morning at the Hess Dairy in Box Elder County), have given way to a new storm that is dropping significant amounts of rain.
Joelle and Barry Hess milk about 220 cows in Northern Utah, and so far, the patterns of this winter bring back memories of winters’ past. “We just haven’t had consistent big storms like this in recent years,” says Barry. While farmers need moisture, precipitation is sometimes a double edged sword, Barry explains, “It’s the lifeblood of everything we do, but it also causes more work.” During last week’s big snowfall, Barry was up earlier than normal to clear the cows’ corals of snow, make sure that water troughs weren’t frozen, and fix temperamental tractors (nothing really likes to work well in -22 degrees!). With rain falling now, he is dealing with ice and excess water.
So how does this winter weather affect the cows?
Because farmers track everything, Barry can tell exactly how the weather is impacting his cows. During last week’s snow and cold temperatures, he noticed a natural shift in his cows’ eating patterns. They tend to eat a bit less than normal, and in an effort to keep themselves warm, opt for more fiber. Fiber, dry straw or hay, for example, allows the rumen to be more active, he explains, which generates body heat. With this increase in fiber, their overall calorie consumption is less, so milk production drops a little bit. And milk production did drop last week, with each cow delivering an average of about 6 cups, of milk per day less than normal. More on cows in the cold.
Barry tries to keep each cow’s stall free of snow and filled with fresh straw to keep her warm and dry, then the snow isn’t much of a problem he explains. But wind, especially with such cold conditions, can be problematic because, just like with people, it strips the warmth from your body quickly.
Paying it Forward:
While the weather has its challenges, it can also bring neighbors and communities together. While the Hess’s live in a rural area, they look out for their neighbors and try to “pay it forward.” A tractor can be helpful in removing snow, and clearing driveways and Barry and Joelle look out for their friends and neighbors.