Remember the polar vortex that hit four years ago? If you don’t remember, either you are still warming up or were living in a part of the country that was spared from the frigid temperatures.
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Snapshots from around Bohnert Jersey dairy farm in East Moline, Ill., four years ago during the polar vortex. (Photos: Karen Bohnert Artwork: Lindsey Pound)

For many of us that did experience working in the deep freeze, we also remember the countdown for the thermometer to reach above 0.

Of course, dairy farmers are committed, hardworking and understand the meaning of sacrifice. This statement was underscored four years ago when many farmers still had to lace up their boots and head out to care for the livestock during the polar vortex. For us, in East Moline, Ill., that meant temperatures with wind chill were -52. Nonetheless, the cows still had to be milked, fed and cared for.

What I was amazed by that day was that every one of our employees showed up for work and nobody complained. Instead, they took their energy and put it to work—caring for all of our Jersey cattle.

Farmers are the heartbeat of America. They are passionate. Some of the chores that day included:

  • Adding extra straw bedding to all our heifers—from newborn to breeding age.
  • Adding extra straw to our maternity barn.
  • Moving cattle to the milking parlor and then back to the barn. We didn’t want them exposed to the wind any longer than they had to.
  • Shoveling and plowing snow.
  • Feeding calves twice daily; providing extra milk to calves to give them extra nourishment during the extreme cold.
  • Milking cows three times daily.
  • Feeding the crew. Breakfast casseroles and hot cocoa and taking breaks to warm up.

I remember asking my husband if he wished he had a different occupation than working outdoors during the coldest day he has ever farmed. His response was, “No, it’s my job to take care of the cows regardless of the temperature.”

The thing is, all dairy farmers put the same energy and effort forward every day, even during a polar vortex. While our temperatures are considerably warmer, today we a tick above zero, and it still feels cold. Dairy farming is a 365-day commitment, meaning there are no days off. No days to call in sick. So, cows are still a number one priority.

I think I’ve finally warmed up after helping with farm chores four years ago during the polar vortex. So, while this week it is still relatively cold for the Midwest (this morning it was 4), I’m kindly reminded that it’s warm in comparison to the -52 we experienced four years ago.

Perspective is everything after all.

What are your winter survival tips for farming?

To explore strategies for success in 2023 for the dairy industry, we invited Muzaffar Yunusov, lead of key account management at the IFCN Dairy Research Network, to speak at Alltech ONE Budapest.

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