Tips from across the pond – coping with extremes of weather

On a recent CMC Study Tour of the USA, John, Pete, Mark and Karen discovered how farmers across the pond cope with significant changes in temperatures and weather conditions from summer to winter.

While over in the US, we saw temperatures of over 100֯F (39֯C), so it’s unsurprising that farmers often deal with the negative effects relating to heat stress.  Many farms had implemented animal cooling systems such as sprinklers at the feed fence, and thermostat-controlled fans in the cubicles/over loose houses, with some farmers providing shelters for shade in feedlot-type systems.  Almost all dairies used some sort of cooling method in the collecting yard, as this is an obvious ‘hot spot’ on the farm given the number of animals often kept in an enclosed space.

We heard from farmers in Texas who regularly face high winds that average 22mph; they can often experience up to 95mph winds for as long as 24-hours, so they to cope with regular power outages.  The power lines are old (sound familiar?!) but the cost of updating is prohibitive, so they rely heavily on the use of generators as it can take the utilities company over two weeks to get them back online.

The concerns for the winter in Wisconsin and Texas were mainly geared towards the freezing temperatures.  For some places that experienced +40֯C in the summer, winter conditions can see them regularly down to -20֯C with lows of -40֯C.  The major fears at these temperatures are frostbite, teat-end damage and roof collapse due to high volumes of snow drifting on rooftops.  Provision of clean, dry bedding (and plenty of it), is vital to ensuring the risks are minimised.  For cows with long distances to walk back to their beds, it is essential to provide appropriate windbreaks to minimise drafts where possible.  Emphasis was still placed on teat dipping (to help to control mastitis) whilst appreciating that this can also exacerbate wind chill effects.

How prepared are you should we have another visit from ‘the Beast from the East’?  Are your cubicles fit for purpose and ready to house cows over winter?  Are your pipes/water troughs well insulated?  Are there measures that you could be taking now?  It was commonplace in America that to provide calves with increased concentrations of calf milk replacer and/or number of feeds/day during cold spells as the calves utilise so much energy attempting to keep warm.  Calves less than three weeks old need extra feed and warmth to maintain performance if the temperature falls below 15֯C. Calves older than three weeks need extra feed if the temperature falls below 10֯C.  Again, provision of lots of clean, dry bedding is vital to ensuring calves do not suffer from exposure.  Do you always think about increasing the concentration or the number of feeds of your milk replacer in winter?

Do you have heated elements in your water troughs to prevent troughs freezing and to provide cows with warmer drinking water?  If so, do they still work?  Or do your cows have access to the warm water from the plate cooler?

Whether we see a return from the ‘Beast from the East’ or we don’t, preparing your buildings, infrastructure and animals for the winter will be time well spent to ensure that you and your animals are equipped for whatever Mother Nature has to throw at us!

Mark Tucker

Mark has extensive knowledge in forage production and quality. He is fully focused on treating every single farm differently and creating a specific plan based on the needs of the farming enterprise. Which enables him to maximise potential from the farm, he employs a back to basics theory in which he removes the potential pitfalls and tries to improve grassland management systems to increase production on farm from home grown forages.