top half of a cow's head
Country Living,  Farm Families,  Photography

A Farm Story: Cows in the Winter

Winter on a dairy farm is likely the most unattractive time of year. When those Wisconsin winters hit, the sun usually hides behind clouds for months, there is snow everywhere and the cows get to stay cozied up inside the barn. Even with all of that, it does not mean it’s not worth sharing photos of it.

How can you not love beautiful, curious cows like this?

This blog is focused on two things:

  1. To be honest, I am hitting a point in my photography style where I want to share the “reality” of everyday life. I want people to see things as they truly are. I want to tell the truth, not a version of it. I started out as a journalist, and I want to keep that at the heart of my work.
  2. Earlier this winter, I was tagged a few times on Facebook to post 10 photos of farm life as it truly is. I mulled over this because the stipulation was to not explain the photos. I do not like that. I’m a storyteller at heart, so I wanted to give some insight into this photo series while still participating.

My story here is from February 3, 2018. I have only ever shared two photos of this particular day and only on my Instagram feed. (I shared one into a contest, but that is another long story!)

This day, I believe my Dad was working on the pressure tank in the barn, because he had a new one installed and it was not working quite right. No surprise, he was able to work on it with tools he had in the machine shed. I took these photos after morning chores were done and breakfast was had. He was tweaking some water line and didn’t need my help, so I grabbed my camera and spent much needed time with the cows.

My Dad, with all the essentials. WD-40, ratchets, the usual.

On small dairy farms, cows stay tied up in the barn all winter. Farmers go through a lot of work to make sure they are comfortable, stay clean and are fed and watered (hence the pressure tank) all winter. The barn is usually warmer than the house because all the body heat (101.5 degrees!) from dozens of animals makes the place toasty!

This girl is eating some dry hay baled in the summer of 2018.

Winter Eats

Cows are typically fed silage (compacted, un-dried hay stored in silos) and dry hay in the winter. For our farm, we have three silos with silo unloaders (throws silage from the top of the silo down a shoot) that fills up a motorized cart we drive around the barn to feed. If you have never smelled silage, or fresh cut hay for that matter, you’re missing out on some good smells.

Tongues out!

Milking for Newbs

If you have ever wanted to milk a cow, here is a tip: They can sense your fear and unease. Cows know when a newbie is around, they get jumpy and uncomfortable. Anyone who has spent a lot of time with cows, even infrequently, will find that a cow will hardly bat an eye when coming close to her or milking her. So, when you meet a cow, relax, let her see you (come in from the side and tap her hip or leg so she knows you’re there) and be confident.

Also, it is smart to have a farmer teach you step-by-step about how to milk a cow, by hand or by machine.

Here is a little white face Hereford beef cow enjoying a little hay. I loved the shadowing and composition of this photo, as we had the lights off in the heifer barn where he was eating. It looked moody!

The Nature of Cows

I love cows. They are such sweet, independent, docile creatures, each with their own personality. Some can be downright rude, but they are rare.

Cows are curious. They like to smell, taste and nuzzle things. This is my favorite thing about them because it reminds me they love us as much as we love them. In the winter they can get a little itchy on their heads, so go on and give them a good scratch. If she starts “bucking” you, you are doing a good job, but be careful, their heads are hard! Also, don’t be surprised that your coat or pants will get licked if you stand in front of one too long. Everything is worth a taste to a cow. I sometimes think they even mistake my hair for hay!

This is my little story about cows in the winter on a day in February 2018. I hope it gave you some insight!

Even though these photos are over a year old, it felt like the right time to share. Let me know if you have questions about cows or photography, I’d love to chat!

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