Category Archives: Dairy

CNN Eatocracy: ‘Frostbite on their teats’ and other cold weather farming issues


Despite all the cold during the past few weeks, farmers and ranchers across the country have been out and about, taking care of their livestock, and getting things done on the farm and ranch. I wrote an article that looked at several of these cold weather tasks that was published on CNN Eatocracy yesterday. It was published without many of the links to the farmers’ blogs, so I thought I would post it here. Let me know if you’ve seen other ag blog posts talking about working in the bitterly cold weather. And hop on over to CNN Eatocracy and join in the comments section.

cows in the snow

Last year we talked about the fact that there is no such thing as a snow day on the farm or ranch. Livestock must still be fed, equipment must still be maintained, and preparations for the next growing season continue. All of that work becomes much more difficult when the mercury drops well below zero degrees.

The livestock take priority for many farmers and ranchers in these situations. Preparations for the storm include making sure all supplies are on hand, generators are maintained, equipment is prepared to start in very cold conditions, and extra feed is close by in the event that travel is impaired. Despite all the preparations, it is difficult to be ready for everything that will occur when the weather turns for the worse.

Podcast: Farmers go to extremes to keep their livestock healthy during weather extremes. Dr. Michelle Arnold joins Ray Bowman on Food and Farm to talk about caring for lactating livestock in winter. Click here to listen.

For dairy farmers, the cows must still be milked every day, no matter the weather. Minnesota Organic Dairy farmers Tim and Emily Zweber explained how important it is to provide a sheltered barn in -54 degree wind chills. Cows that do not stay in the warm sand beds may get frostbite on their teats. A very uncomfortable situation to say the least.

Patrick Mess in Wisconsin has been bringing the newborn calves into the shop for shelter and affixing doors on the hutches for older calves to protect them from the -20 degrees temperatures. This goes along with making sure the milking parlor stays warms and functional for every milking.

Even in eastern Kansas, the Heim dairy farm family experienced -30 degree wind chills. David and Jennifer were working hard to provide warm bedding in the barns for their cows and calves despite tractors not starting in the cold.

Most beef cattle ranchers will not bring their cattle indoors. However, if calving is near, a newborn may end up in the house overnight. Cattle are incredibly resilient and are able to stay warm through thick winter hair coats that act as insulation. As long as they are able to stay dry and find shelter from the wind, like a shed or trees, cattle will stay warm.

Cattle produce body heat from digestion of hay and forages in their rumen (large stomach compartment) and are able to stay warm in most conditions. One of the main challenges in this weather is keeping water sources thawed. As Kansas rancher Debbie Blythe shows, even the no-freeze water tanks ice over when it drops below zero.

For smaller animals like turkeys, chickens, and pigs, keeping warm can be more of a challenge. This is where it really pays off to have barns that retain heat well. Even when wind chills dropped to -26 on the Olson family farm in Minnesota, Carolyn’s pig barns never dropped below 73 degrees.

In Ohio, the Wildman family raises pigs and must make sure that generator power sources are ready for when power goes out on their rural farm. Extra feed supplies must be on hand when roads become impassible so farm from town.  Even in Iowa, turkey farmers like the Olthoff family are working to keep their livestock barns warm and insulating feed and water sources to make sure nothing freezes up.

bull in the snow

Despite all the preparation that may occur, not everything will go right on the farm and ranch when it gets this cold. Diesel tractors will not start, equipment will break, and a water line will freeze. The farmers and ranchers are in the fields and barns, working around the clock, waiting for things to warm back up.

Oh, and we did not even mention the bread and milk grocery run! Hopefully the farmers and ranchers remember to stop for a bite to eat and keep themselves warm as well.

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#FlatRyan Learns About Antibiotics In Milk


Tennessee dairy farmer Ryan Bright, who writes Silo Skies, took us up on the offer to host Flat Ryan on his farm! And Ryan Bright’s secret agent cows from The Udder Side watched what he was up to and they prepared the following blog post on it.  Thanks Ryan! And we hope all of you enjoy learning from Flat Ryan’s new adventure. Please feel free to submit your own post that explains some of the production practices, facts about agriculture in your state, etc by taking Flat Ryan on an adventure of your own

We caught The Farmer playing with a paper doll. I mean we saw him using crayons and scissors like a kindergartener. And then he brought the paper doll with him to the dairy farm.

Flat Ryan learns about antibiotics in milk

Then The Farmer and the paper doll he called Flat Ryan put together this video about antibiotics in milk. Make sure you watch it to the end!

There are times when antibiotics are needed on a dairy farm such as when a cow like me, or a calf, gets sick. However, The Farmer goes to great lengths to make sure no milk with antibiotics leaves the farm because that milk can never be sold. Period.

As it turn out The Farmer is participating in The Ag Proud Adventures of Flat Ryan. The purpose of taking a paper version of Ryan Goodman around is to share farm facts like the kind you can find at Agriculture Proud. Be sure and check that blog out and then download your own Flat Ryan to color, cut out, and take on an adventure! Follow the adventures with the hashtag #flatryan and learn more agriculture facts!

Agent 101, reporting from the Udder Side, and hoping The Farmer is finished playing with paper dolls.

via The Udder Side: #FlatRyan Learns About Antibiotics In Milk.

Biotechnology in Cattle: Artificial Insemination goals for dairy farmers


A few weeks ago, I started a series featuring biotechnology tools used in cattle herds across the country. David and Jennifer Heim are friends of mine and own a dairy farm in northeast Kansas. The Heims milk 85-100 Holstein cows and raise their heifer calves as replacements. They also raise corn, soybeans, hay, and other forages, mostly for feed. Jennifer greatly enjoys spending time with her breeding and genetics program and does an awesome job blogging about the events and decisions made on the farm. When she wrote this blog post describing their use of Artificial Insemination in the herd, I was pretty excited that she is allowing me to share it with you.

Holstein Dairy Calf Hutch Artificial Insemination
This little gal (who is not this little any more) is from one of the cows I personally bred, which is a very cool feeling. She’s out of the bull Boliver, who happens to be one of the few proven bulls we were using last year.

Breeding is important, but it really doesn’t matter what you breed a cow to if she doesn’t get pregnant. Last spring, we started using blood tests to confirm pregnancies. Since then we’ve tweaked our protocol to best suit our herd’s needs. Our milk hauler picks up our blood samples, and I am usually home on Sundays to draw blood, so every other Sunday, when our milk will be picked up on a Monday morning, I take blood samples from cows and heifers that were bred between 8 and 10 weeks prior who have not shown a heat since. The test can indicate pregnancy at 28 days, but we were observing a lot of heats just shortly after testing, and about a month after testing, when we were testing earlier. We’ve been on the every-other week at 8 weeks bred schedule for 3 or 4 months now, and have had very few come back in heat after being confirmed pregnant.

Several weeks ago we wrapped up pregnancy confirmations on all our cows and heifers that were bred in 2012. We tallied everything up, and here’s what we learned:

What are your conception rates with artificial insemination?

We started out the year with great conception – about 60%. Then we had two unexplained terrible months in March and April. Summer brought normal lulls due to heat, but was still better than March or April. After the heat subsided and the herd adjusted, we finished the year with solid conception and a lot of pregnancies, including several cows who were on their final attempts. Next fall may be busier than this one was.

How do you select sires with artificial insemination? Continue reading

Undercover video reveals shocking images of Wisconsin dairy farm


Yesterday, a new undercover video was released from a Wisconsin dairy farm; a farm much like one of the many family farms across the country. Actually, after reading so many reports of animal welfare concerns, these revealing scenes from behind closed doors are pretty shocking. Watch the video for yourself.

See the original post on the DairyCarrie blog.

Seriously though, we have Carrie Mess (the leader of the Agriculture Proud Banditas) to thank for this video. And the barn doors were probably closed because it is cold in Wisconsin during the winter.

She has opened up a few doors by playing on the tactics of animal rights activists who regularly use scare tactics, emotion, and narratives to depict scenes of animal cruelty and welfare concerns in animal abuse videos. Well played, Carrie! Thank you for showing us that your cows are comfortable and well-taken care of while they are “doing cow things.”

Jersey Dairy Cows in Milking BarnI think the important point to be made with this video (originally posted on the DairyCarrie blog) is that we can all make videos, and we can all narrate scenes, but no matter how you play it, a video (or photos, or even a single blog post) is nothing more than a snapshot of the entire story.

Livestock production and farming is not a snapshot affair. A single measurement of anything is not an accurate depiction of the circumstances. It takes an entire dialogue, a relationship, and honest communication to gain an understanding of what happens in farming and food production. Carrie displays this well and follows through with the constant dialogue through her blog posts.

I am not saying things are perfect. Nothing is perfect. There is always something we can improve upon. It’s when we become content or complacent with our circumstances that we lose that desire to improve. There are several farmers and ranchers across the country working to improve and connect with their customers to learn what needs more improvement.

These dialogues cannot take place without a certain amount of civility in conversations. Sensational, emotional, provoking videos are not always the answer, but they do capture our attention.

Holstein Dairy Cows grazing wheat grass pasture

You may have been misled by the title of this post, and you may have been let down by cows doing cow things in the video, but it probably caught your attention better than a title of “Cows in a Barn.”

Be sure to stop by Carrie’s Blog, her Facebook page, or tweet her to ask your questions about dairy farming.