Keeping cows happy

Below zero temperatures, drifts of snow and a day off from school mean nothing for local dairy farmers at Maplevalley Farms.

As temperatures dropped roughly 40 degrees in a 12-hour period Monday, the Steinke family had a lot of preparing to do to ensure the safety of their cows on the farm.

Kim Steinke said they boarded up windows and doors in the barns to keep the cows, especially the calves extra warm. She said there are big doors on each side of the building for the cows that are being kept closed, and one smaller door that is being left open for the cows to go in and out of as necessary.

Steinke also said there is a crank apparatus called a curtain that goes up and down on a roller and that is definitely pulled down all the way on days like today as one precautionary step.

“Then there’s just taking extra straw bales and putting those around the baby calves, and in some of their hutches outside,” Steinke said. “Just giving everybody extra bedding, keeping everyone warm.”

Working on a farm takes a lot of effort from everyone in the family, and this morning Steinke, her husband Richard and their three children, LeeAnn, Aprille and Luke all chipped in.

“I’m very proud of my kids, we were up at 4 a.m. this morning milking cows, and they don’t have school, but they do have to still get up, chores need to be done, so it was nice having them home this morning,” she said. “Aprille was up, helped milking this morning. LeeAnn came inside and made a big breakfast, and Richard said to Luke, ‘we gotta go clean the lane out,’ and Luke said, ‘not a day off for me.’”

Richard and Luke need to clear the lane up to their house so the milk truck can access the road.

“We’ve got to get the milk truck in today and that’s an 18-wheel milk truck that comes in and picks up our milk,” Steinke said. “Today they’re going to clean that lane out and its not going to take long and it’s going to be drifted shut again, so if he (the milk man) gives us a call and says, “hey I’m on my way,” the guys can get out there and go through the lane one more time and get all of the snow out of the way.”

Steinke said the sunshine today really helps a lot.

“Every building is built to where the cows are out of the wind, but the sun is shining on them, it makes a huge difference,” she said.

Morning chores did take a little extra time this morning with the snow drifts and wind.

“My kids were even laughing at me, they’re kids they can run, they’re young, but it took me a while to walk from place to place with the drifts and the wind, and of course you have more clothes on,” she said. “I take six calf bottles at a time to the calves and on my way there and on my way back I’d go sit by the heater in the milk house and warm up.”

Simple adjustments like milking the cows a few at a time can really help the cows and the Steinke’s stay warm.

“We left them in the barn as long as they wanted to be, brought little groups in at a time so they weren’t all standing outside waiting to be milked like usual,” she said.

Steinke said they have to be very careful because the cows udders can get frostbite just like flingers, so that is something they have to consider. On a daily basis, after being milked, there is a post-dip that is put on the udders to protect them from getting any kid of dirt or anything in their teats.

“Today, we have a special post-teat dip that we use for cold weather,” Steinke said. “It’s a liquid that stops them from getting frostbite, so that definitely has to be used.”

Once the cows are done being milked they are in one barn eating hay or back in the other barn laying down.

“They’re not standing out in the cold, so that helps a lot too. Cows are pretty smart, animals are smart, they’re not going to stand out in that cold weather,” she said.

One of the worst parts about having these below zero temperatures is making sure the young calves are healthy, happy and warm.

“We have two cows in the nursery right now, hoping that they don’t have a calf until tomorrow or Wednesday,” Steinke said. “But if they do, we’ll definitely be down there keeping that new calf warm and dry. When they’re born they’re wet, mom usually licks them off, but we always take extra towels down there too to dry them off and help her out some.”

Steinke said it can be very hard on the baby calves.

“You’ve got to watch so they don’t get pneumonia, but when your temp drops very quickly, it’s hard on anybody,” she said. “We have what we call blankets, but it’s like a coat that will go on baby calves, just the young ones, so we put those on five or six of our calves last night.”

On the farm, the family tries to do their best to make all of the animals happy.

“Sometimes there’s less milk, of course they don’t produce as much when it’s colder,” she said. “They have to eat more to keep themselves warm too, but that’s not  a problem, that’s just natural.”

Along with eating more to help stay warm, Steinke said the cows need to continue to drink a lot of water. She said cows drink about 50 gallons of water a day.

“We definitely have to make sure our water fountains aren’t frozen, no pipes are frozen because cows definitely need their water,” she said.

Despite the cold, Steinke and her daughter Aprille could tell the cows were happy this morning.

“We were milking them this morning and Aprille made the comment, ‘well they’re all chewing their cud,’ and when cows are chewing their cud their pretty happy,” she said.