What Do You Do in the Winter? Dairy

While other parts of the farm shut or slow down in the winter, we’re still pulling long days here at the dairy. Our herd of Brown Swiss cows produces milk year-round, so we milk year-round, too. Winter milking looks a lot like summer milking. Except colder! Right now, in late January, we’re milking 83 cows. That number will climb as more cows calve in the spring, peaking out near 120.

In the winter, since we’re not harvesting crops for stored feed or rotating the cows through pasture, we do get a little window of time for maintenance, repairs, and improvements. This year, we just installed new barn doors on the sheep barn to keep the sheep snug, built a new sheep fence, and reinforced a wall of the cow’s feeding barn.

Another major project we just completed is sheep shearing, in anticipation of lambing season. (We expect our first lambs sometime in the first two weeks of February.) We shear our sheep at this time of year for three main reasons.

  • For the lambs: Newborn lambs can mistake shaggy clumps of dirty fleece for teats and latch on to them. This can create serious health issues.
  • For the ewes: They get quite large in late pregnancy, and those extra inches of fleece on top of already wide girths can cause uncomfortable crowding.
  • For the fleece: The stress of lambing shows up in a ewe’s fleece: it makes the fibers weak (like getting split ends). By shearing ewes just before lambing, these inevitable weaknesses in the fibers will grow out to the fiber tips by the time we do a second shearing. The tips can then be easily trimmed off, yielding long, strong fibers to spin into wool.

As we await new lambs, calving season has already begun! The first heifer calf of the year was born at the dairy over the weekend. Her name is Michelle in honor of First Lady Michelle Obama. Every year, we pick a naming theme for our calves, and the 2015 theme is First Ladies. Many more calves will be eager to meet the public at Dairy Day on May 3rd.

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