Jan. 11 2019 08:00 AM

Dairy farming during the winter months can sometimes seem like you are just waiting around for something to go wrong.

Dairy farming in the northern United States during the winter months is cold, long, and tough. My family jokes around when we say a lot of what you do during the months of December, January, and February is just waiting for something to break. In our case, that something is usually waterers or a piece of machinery.

While construction and other major projects for the farm may need to be put on hold, there are a few activities that can be done to improve your operation during the colder months. Here are five things we can all do while waiting for those water pipes to freeze.

1. Checkup with employees: Whether you have one hired hand or 60, it is always a good idea to work side by side with them for a couple hours or a day. You can see if protocols are being followed, if people work well together, and if they have new ways of doing something better.

2. Update SOPs (standard operating procedures): Practices on the dairy change all the time, but they do not always get incorporated into the SOPs. This is also a great time to develop SOPs for your dairy if you do not have them. Feeding, milking, calf handling, and fresh cow management are common areas for SOPs. Keep a written, laminated copy available for all employees. If you can, post them on walls in areas where the job is being performed.

Standard operating procedures are written, step-by-step instructions that describe how to perform a routine job. They help maintain consistency, efficiency, and safety.

3. Clean and organize: Every winter, my mom would have us let out the cows in our 68-tie stall barn and scrub the walls and pipes. It was not my favorite job, but it beat working outside in the cold. A deep cleaning of pails, bottles, and other calf equipment is another job you can get done while staying warm inside.

4. Inside repairs: Winter is a great time to patch up walls, paint, or put in new parlor mats. We often will plan indoor projects like this during the winter. The past four years that I have come home from college for holiday break, I have painted one or more of the rooms on our farm. Just like cleaning, it is nice to get out of the cold and work on projects inside.

5. Take time: All these extra projects are things we can do in addition to the normal day-to-day jobs on a dairy. But, if the calves are bedded, the waterers are thawed, and machinery is still running, take some of the down time for yourself. Come in early to hang out with family, eat lunch while actually sitting down, and maybe take a couple naps.

I try to keep things extra positive while working in the cold. Here I am pushing my little brothers in our wheelbarrow as we head to scoop snow out of feedbunks.

Christy Achen

Christy Achen was the 2018 Hoard's Dairyman summer editorial intern. She grew up on a dairy farm in southwest Kansas. Achen is currently a senior at Utah State University studying agricultural communications and journalism.

Join us for our next webinar:

"The dairy situation and outlook for 2019" presented by Mark Stephenson, University of Wisconsin-Madison Sponsored by Chr. Hansen

Dairy policy analyst, Mark Stephenson from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, presents “The dairy situation and outlook for 2019” on Monday, January 14, at noon (Central time).

For the past four years, dairy markets have been stuck in a relatively small range of prices that don’t cover the full costs of production for most producers. Will 2019 be the breakout year that we hope it is? We’ll examine the market fundamentals we face and see what’s in store. Register here for all webinars.