How Cows Stay Warm

dairy cows eating in barn

It’s starting to get chilly outside—at least for part of the day. While we can bundle up or stay in with the heat in the mornings, how do cows get warm? Their hair doesn’t appear thick and they aren’t walking around in jackets. Are they like penguins who huddle together or are they toughing it out?

Neither, it turns out. 

The South is a region of extremes. Summer should be so hot that ice cream, air conditioning, and extra fans barely keep you cool while winter calls for portable heaters, blankets, and a thermos of hot chocolate. The South is also unpredictable with all types of weather occurring, sometimes in the span of a week. With ever-changing weather, cows aren’t expected to simply deal with the changes. To protect the herd from the elements, the design of their home is critical.

An unheated barn can stay a comfortable temperature in the colder months thanks to the body heat cows generate. With a cow’s average body temperature of 101.5°F, several members of the herd staying in can keep everyone comfy on those cold mornings. Because of a cow’s thick skin and her hair providing natural insulation, cows prefer temperatures between 40 and 65 degrees. While humans prefer warmer temperatures, to them, those chilly mornings are perfect weather! As long as they’re well-fed, healthy and have dry bedding available, cows don’t mind the cold. Rather than venturing outdoors, cows prefer to stay in their dry barns where they have plenty of space to lay down, walk, eat feed and drink fresh water.

They enjoy their barns, so many farmers optimize the area for any need.

There are various types of barns, but a popular design is called a freestall barn. A freestall barn is a modern barn design that protects the dairy cow herd all year long while providing a comfortable resting area. It includes stalls and bedding for each cow. Cows have access to clean water and feed 24 hours a day. The barn is routinely cleaned by farm employees and bedding, water, and feed are refreshed. A freestall barn provides ventilation and many options are climate controlled, allowing for cow cooling measures such as misters and fans in the summer and attachable curtains and sidewalls for the winter. Other comfort options like automatic brushes can be added. Cows are not restrained in the barn and are free to enter and leave whenever they desire.

As for the babies, calves have individualized protection. Each calf has her own hutch to call home for the first months of life. A hutch contains bedding and an outdoor area with water and feed. These individual enclosures provide a safe, warm place for each calf with enough room to move around. As she’s given her own room, the hutch also makes it easy to monitor each calf’s health, as well as how much she eats. Her siblings can’t steal any of her food or keep her out of bed. Calves are living the dream of everyone growing up with siblings! 

Really, the South’s extreme weather is a nuisance to humans, but not cows. Sun, rain or snow, hot or cold, cows have a home made for their comfort.  

To learn more about cows, visit a local farmer, available here

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