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Family Milk Cow / cold weather & feeding  RSS feed

Kim Briggs
Posts: 4
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I am totally new at this. I got a mid-size Jersey a couple of weeks ago. We live in East Texas on a couple of acres. Ok, so maybe it's not so cold to some of ya'll, but I'm just wondering how cold does it have to get for me to worry? She is out in the pasture with a shed she can go in if she wants (but she doesn't… she sleeps in the rain/snow). Do I need to do anything special for her? Feed more or differently? I read somewhere to give more hay when it is cold to help them keep warm, but they didn't mention how cold cold was and since this is Texas, we've already had fall, winter(all the way down to at least 20F) & spring this week Since I know close to nothing, I was sticking with what the guy I bought her from gave her which was sweet feed & hay. She gives us 3-3.5 gallons per day which is great for us… I'm reading 'The Family Cow' right now.

Also, another question. The pasture she is in has bahia, bermuda, winter rye and dewberries (lots of dewberries) Is it good enough as is, or are there things I could add/change in the field to improve her diet so I could move more towards all grass fed. (is that possible, I read somewhere else that you can't feed a dairy cow just a grass fed diet.)
Or resources that would be good to read?
Open to any & all suggestions… Please and Thank you!
Adam Klaus
Posts: 946
Location: 6200' westen slope of colorado, zone 6
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Hi Kim, glad you got yourself a cow!

No worries, at all ever about cold in East Texas. She's fine, end of story. Sleep easy.

As for feeding your cow from pasture, which is what you want to develop, that is an excellent objective. You absolutely can feed a dairy cow from pasture alone. I do it with a small herd for 10 months a year. I feed hay for 2 months, when the cows are dry in Jan and Feb, because I live in the freezing cold beautiful mountains of Colorado. Pasture feeding absolutely works for dairy cows, dont believe the naysayers.

You do need dairy quality pastures, however. I would look at the books 'Quality Pasture' by Alan Nation and 'Management Intensive Grazing' by Jim Gerish. They will give you a bunch of tools for improving your pastures to support lactating dairy animals.

Be aware that a lactating Jersey cow has enormous nutritional requirements, and that your pasture will need to be excellent to not compromise your cow's health over time. It is possible though. You will need to shift your pastures to prodominantly legumes, like clover. But really check out those two books for a lot of detail on the subject.

Good luck!
S Haze
Posts: 229
Location: Southern Minnesota, USA, zone 4/5
duck forest garden trees woodworking
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Can I ask Adam a question?

It still pertains to dairy cows and cold. I've been considering a dairy cow or possibly goats and trying to wrap my head around how it could all work (I'll probably plan out the details for another year or two, too much else going on now anyway). The no barn thing has a lot of appeal but is that feasible in a cold climate? I know I'd want to be inside some sort of shelter if I had to milk a cow when it's -20 F!
R Scott
Posts: 3363
Location: Kansas Zone 6a
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We got our milk cow before we had a milk barn. Milked them tied to a nice shade tree. They loved it.

Winter came early the first year. During the first blizzard I made a windbreak with big round bales and put a couple billboard tarps over the top as a roof, supported by pieces of chain link top rail as the A frame. We were hand milking. That was little house on the prairie brutal that year. You would get as close to the cow as you could to get warm. Hands were always chapped and sore.

Next year I put up a garage tent from Sam's club. That was supposed to be a one year tent to get us through until we could build a barn. I think we used it 3 years. Decided to get a milking machine before a barn after the first year in the tent.

This year I finally put up a 20x40 hoophouse frame. I thought I had a deal on barn tin, but it fell through so I bought a really good tarp. The south end never got closed off, but I did get the prevailing wind stopped. If it ever gets done it will be nice, with a nice holding pen and separate parlor. I did raise the floor several inches with fill to make sure there are no water problems. I only get one big snow a year, so snow load was not such a worry for me. I wouldn't do a hoophouse that far north. My other option was one of the metal carport/storage barn things--but it cost more and I am planning to build a greenhouse and high tunnels so I invested in a bender.

Biggest issue we have is hauling the milking machine in and out--the vacuum pump does not like the cold. Even if I had the barn finished, I would still need to build a small pumphouse that I could heat.
Kelly Smith
Posts: 720
Location: In a rain shadow - Fremont County, Southern CO
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Hi Kim,

from what i have read most dairy cows are fine outside down to -20F, so long as they has a place to get out of the wind (if any) and have access to quality feed. (per the family cow book, which ive also read )
cows have an internal temp of 101F, so as long as their rumen is full they can create enough heat to stay warm. It has been down to -18 here in CO this year and our jersey/brown swiss cross is doing just fine. she is due in 3 weeks.

I think the biggest thing is to make sure the teats arent getting to cold and getting frostbite. may not be a issue in east texas.

i am not much help on pasture question, as i am working to restore our pasture also. i think a diverse mix of grasses is the minimum to shoot for.

we are in the process of building a 16x16ft milking shed, but it wont be done before the calf is here.

hope this helps.
Red Bryant
Posts: 2
Location: SE Ohio, Zone 6B
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The biggest enemy to outdoor cattle is wet and wind together. They can be wet, and they can be cold, and they'll be fine. But if they're soaked and it's windy, then they can't keep their heat because the wind sucks it away. So you need to either keep them dry or out of the wind, or both, with some sort of shelter or lean to or windbreak.

The digestion/fermentation of dry matter in a ruminent keeps the metabolism up in the animal, and that creates heat. That's why you feed more hay when it's really cold. I'm in Ohio and mine get an extra flake apiece when it gets frigid or it's wet/windy.

Watch your cow's weight. If she's getting thin, then she needs more food because she's burning all her calories staying warm and making milk. Her milk production will also go down if she's burning hay to stay warm. Just adjust as needed.


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