By Jackie Barber of Winners Drink Milk
I love winter and I love snow, but as anyone who has ever driven on bad winter roads knows, snow and ice can make simple tasks much more difficult.
Dairy farming is not ever a simple task, but harsh winter weather certainly makes it more difficult. Farms get their milk picked up every day or every other day, so impassable, snowy, icy country roads can have a big impact on when the milk truck comes. If the milk truck isn't able to make it to the farm, state law mandates that the milk is discarded. This makes sure that the milk in your stores is very fresh.
Farms are always in danger of power outages in the winter time--if the power is out, the cows can't be milked. (And the cows definitely want to be milked!) In really cold weather, the milk lines or the water pipes in the milking parlor may freeze. Milk, of course, freezes at a lower temperature than water, but the water is necessary to keep the parlor squeaky clean. Thawing out the pipes can add a lot of hours to farmer's day.
The cows themselves are generally not too bothered by cold weather. They grow shaggy coats in the winter and generally have a nice warm barn to relax in. Cows also generate a lot of body heat by their normal digestion. A group of cows together in a building is way better than a space heater!
The baby calves have a little harder time with the cold--just like human babies. Young calves don't have a lot of body fat and aren't ruminating (that's the digestive process to break down grasses and grains that older cows do). Just drinking milk doesn't generate the body heat for a baby that chewing her cud does for a older cow. So, farmers adapt. Baby calves get lots of deep straw bedding in a protected area--either in a draft-free barn or a little house called a "hutch"--to keep them warm. For newborns or on especially cold days, baby calves can wear "calf jackets" which basically look like a tiny horse blanket (or an oversized Paris Hilton-style dog costume).