Winter preparedness on the dairy farm

Dairy cattle standing in snow on the hillside.
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BROOKINGS, S.D. – Weather this time of year can change in a hurry. Are dairy producers ready for winter, asked Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist?

Below Erickson outlines a basic winter preparedness checklist for producers to review.

“Obviously, there may be things that you will need to add to this list as each farm is unique, but it will serve as a starting point,” Erickson said. “It is my hope that this check list will help you prepare your dairy for the winter season ahead and be beneficial as you put your winter preparedness plan into action, while simultaneously making those cold winter mornings less stressful.”

Make way for snow removal: Pick up any items from the yard that may become buried under a snow bank or entangled in the snow blower.

Snow fence: Put up an appropriate snow fence or snow break in yards for protection and to minimize drifts in areas where they are not wanted.

Fix muddy areas: Consider bringing in any necessary fill or mounding areas that become muddy or troublesome spots in the spring.

Barn Maintenance: Take a look at your barn maintenance list:

1) Check curtains on barns to make sure they are operating properly and repair any holes or tears.

2) Check and maintain ventilation fans including tightening belts and keeping blades and louvers clean.

3) Look upward, inspect and repair building roofs and rafters, making sure there is no loose tin or cracked rafters present.

4) Maintain and repair any doors in barns that may not open or close properly.

5) Check and clean barn heaters to make sure they are operating properly.

6) Outside the facilities, do preventative trimming of trees around barns, driveways and fences.

“It never fails that in winter, Murphy’s Law prevails and equipment will break down or have problems on one of those extremely cold days, making repair work miserable,” Erickson said.

So what are some things to consider regarding winter equipment maintenance and preparation?

Test and service your generator(s) and make sure there is adequate fuel on hand to run them.

Winterize and service farm equipment such as tractors, semi’s, skid loaders, pay loaders, feed mixing wagons, manure pumps, etc. Take time to check anti-freeze levels, batteries and fuel filters as these items routinely cause issues in cold weather. Keep extra fuel filters on hand for equipment that uses diesel fuel and may gel up in extreme cold.

Examine snow blowers or other snow removal equipment and make sure it is in proper working order.

Obtain and store enough fuel (No. 1 Diesel or 50:50 blend) to run equipment for an extended period of time. (A two-week supply is suggested.)

Feed & Water Checklist

Clean and check heating elements in all water drinking fountains;

Repair any water fountains or water lines that may be leaking. Ice buildup is a hazard to livestock and humans;

Have adequate feed supplies moved in for easy access to the farm. It is recommended to have a two-week supply of purchased feedstuffs.

Shelter: As we examine the shelter and health side, what is necessary to keep the animals healthy and protected on the dairy?

1. Move calf hutches to areas that are easily accessible in the winter and provide wind protection for young livestock;

2. Have a two-week supply of veterinary supplies commonly used on the dairy such as intra-mammary mastitis treatments, antibiotics, electrolytes, calcium solutions, antiseptics, bandages, unused needles, and syringes;

3. Start utilizing calf coats on newborn calves till they are weaned;

4. Provide adequate bedding for all livestock making sure it is deep enough for them to nest in to help maintain body heat;

5. Examine body condition and hair coat of various groups of livestock, adjust rations appropriately for cold weather;

6. Evaluate shelter for livestock in open lots, making sure there is adequate wind protection and the ability to get bedding pack built up for them prior to poor weather.

Other items to consider

* Develop a plan with milk haulers and milk buyers for options if milk is unable to be picked up for an extended period of time.

* Partner with neighbors and develop a plan if it is necessary to do your own snow removal on public access roads.

For more information contact, Tracey Erickson, SDSU Extension Dairy Field Specialist at the SDSU Extension Regional Center in Watertown at 605-882-5140 or email at

–SDSU Extension