CHIPPEWA FALLS — Adam Seibel usually lets his cows outside for a bit each day, but with wind chills as low as -53 degrees today in the Chippewa Valley, the animals will stay in his barn.
“Usually our dry cows and heifers go outside,” said Seibel, who has 350 cows on his farm in the town of Woodmohr, south of Bloomer. “This is the first time we’ve closed the barn doors in years, to keep the heat in.”
Seibel, like other farmers across western Wisconsin, battled the cold weather — today’s low air temperature is forecast at -29 — while feeding their animals and doing their everyday chores around their farm this week.
“We’re giving them extra energy in their rations, and extra electrolytes, and an extra bottle of milk,” Seibel said. “We spend a few extra hours in the barn, scraping manure and trying to keep it clear.”
Extra precautions are taken to make sure the animals stay warm.
“We’re putting down extra straw,” Seibel said. “All the calves and young stock all have blankets on them. They are strapped on them, with a buckle.”
Seibel also is concerned about the machinery.
“There is a risk, with conveyors, that could freeze up, and not work,” he said. “Our biggest concern is water lines freezing, or a heater stopping working in the middle of the night. Making sure everything is working is the big thing, and everything is thawed out.”
Brad Peck, who farms in the town of Hallie, has 400 animals on his farm, including 170 dairy cows. He also is concerned about how the cold weather affects his equipment.
“Just getting a tractor started at -10 (degrees) is difficult,” Peck said. “I need to mix my feed and haul it to the cows. For the milking cows, it’s almost 100 pounds of feed every day. I move 20,000 pounds of feed every day. With this weather, I give them an extra pound of corn every day.”
Peck said everything becomes a little bit more challenging with the cold weather.
“Keeping water liquid is a challenge; they need to drink,” he said. “Machinery doesn’t necessarily like to work well. You can’t haul manure because it is frozen.”
Peck said some of his animals could go outside, but he does have space inside for all of them. But cows are resilient, he added.
“If it’s a healthy animal and they are out of the wind, they get through it pretty good,” Peck said. “There is no heat in the cow barn, but it was about 30 degrees in there (Tuesday) morning.
However, the floor is cement and becomes quite cold.
“They have a mattress where they lay, and there’s straw, so they aren’t lying on cement,” Peck said.
George Polzin, who farms in the town of Goetz, north of Cadott, has 300 animals, including 100 mature dairy cows and 150 young stock. Polzin shrugs at questions about the weather.
“You just do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “You dress appropriately and hope things don’t break down. But cattle need to be fed. You don’t dwell on it. You just have to be more careful; you can’t take shortcuts when it’s cold. Little things can become big problems.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Polzin had all his animals inside. The small calves are in a heated barn.
“Some of them eat outside,” he said. “We have five outside waters that are heated.”
Mark Hagedorn, Eau Claire County UW Extension agriculture agent, echoed the farmers’ comments that cows are able to handle cold weather, and many cows in the area are still outside, huddling together by tree lines and hay bales.
“Keep them dry and keep them out of the wind,” Hagedorn said. “They are built to deal with the cold. They are well-insulated and have thick hides.”
Hagedorn agreed that farmers need to increase their calorie intake, including some extra carbohydrates, during this type of weather.
The bigger concern is the farm machinery continuing to function, Hagedorn said. But farmers prepare for this weather in advance, he added.
“You’ll see farmers in October switch to a higher grade of diesel that won’t turn to jello (in the cold),” Hagedorn said. “Equipment has gotten very good over the years, with higher horse-power engines that start easier.”
Hagedorn said another fear is frozen pipes, and the mess that can be made when one breaks.