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WCROC’s dairy herd ready for winter

By Carol Stender

cstender@agrinews.com

MORRIS, Minn. — The West Central Research and Outreach Center’s dairy herd is ready for winter. The cows have developed seasonal heavy hair coats to protect from winter’s winds and snow.

Researchers at the Morris-based center are pleased with the production system’s results. The cows are healthy and have few frozen teats, said Dennis Johnson, WCROC dairy specialist.

WCROC is entering its fifth outwintering season. About 150 cows are overwintered.

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The entire 200-plus cow herd grazes in a rotational pasture system spring, summer and fall.

Once the pastures end production, the dairy herd is moved close to the milking parlor and other overwintered cows to nearby pastures with big round hay bales doubling as protection from wind and as a food source.

The bales are placed strategically so the herd concentration around the bales doesn’t damage the pasture for spring grazing and the manure is evenly distributed, Johnson said. Water is readily available.

Milking animals are separated into two groups. One group has a natural tree windbreak for shelter while the others have a man-made fence-like windbreak. Both have straw-bedded packs. The packs require less straw than loose-housing in a shed.

The system is very economical for low-cost herds, Johnson said. Last winter the overwintered cows consumed 3.9 to 4.3 percent of body weight as dry matter from the TMR while producing 52 to 55 pounds of milk per day and gaining weight and condition in late lactation, Johnson said.

The cows are crosses bred for thriving outdoors. Thin animals of any age may have trouble holding their own in outdoor conditions, Johnson said. Younger animals accustomed to confinement may need training to adapt.

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