Caring for cows in the cold

Calf in Jacket on Petersen Dairy Farm on December 27, 2017 (WLUK/Mike Moon)

APPLETON, Wis. (WLUK) -- At Petersen Dairy Farm in Appleton, Mark Petersen worked fast last week to prepare for below zero wind chills this week.

"I don't know how they did it 100 years ago when they were surprised by it, because we know it's coming. Just like your auto maintenance or anything else, just have to make sure the barn is ready for it and your equipment is ready and, emotionally, you're ready," Petersen told FOX 11 News.

Petersen brings most of his cows and smaller calves into the barn on these bitter cold days. He also has his dairy nutritionist stop in weekly.

"He makes some minor adjustments in the feed to get more energy into the cows and you mix a little bit bigger batch," Petersen told us.

According to Liz Binversie with the Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension, cows need to eat more when it's this cold. She said calves can need as much as 50 perceny more than their normal feed.

"That'll help them just get a few more calories in them to keep them warm and allow their body to provide enough body heat to stay warm," Binversie explained.

And like humans need to wear layers, they have things like jackets for the smaller calves.

Despite the chill, Petersen still gives the cows time for fresh air.

"I still send them outside every day even if it's fairly, extremely cold, even if it's just for an hour or so just to get them out of the barn and kick their heels up a bit," he told FOX 11, explaining the cold, dry air is good for them, in small doses anyway.

Binversie advises farmers to be on the look out for signs of frostbite on the animals.

"Just like with people or pets, the extremities are more susceptible to getting frostbite," she said.

Binversie told us us the cows could produce less milk in the cold.

"Their bodies are going, their mode is into warmth mode at this point, not necessarily milk production," she explained.

But Petersen told FOX 11 that if the cows are properly fed and cared for, the cold can have the opposite effect.

"January, a lot of times, is their highest milk production," he said.

Petersen told us the extra work is worth it, but it is tough.

"Oh, very much so! You're much more exhausted at the end of the day than if it were 65 degrees and perfectly sunny outside," he said.

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