Preparing for a ‘cold snap’ on farms

Temperatures are expected to drop over the coming days and, once this happens, it can lead to a few issues on farms.

For farmers across the country, now is the time to prepare for freezing weather conditions – not the night before.

Every year, freezing weather conditions affect farms in many ways. Common problems that are associated with such conditions are: frozen water pipes; frozen milking machines; and frozen slurry scrapers in sheds.

Furthermore, it is important to keep your tractors in the shed when not in use and to have adequate anti-freeze in the coolant system.

If cattle have had restricted access to water, it is important that the over-drinking of water, when made available, is avoided, as this can lead to health problems.

Water Pipes

If a farm’s water supply is coming from a deep well, the deep submersible pump should not freeze. However, the pipes and fittings connecting the pump to the water tank (into the shed) are at risk.

Therefore, it is important to insulate any exposed pipes and if possible to have all water pipes underground. An option for farmers is to install a thermostatically-controlled fan heater in the pump house.

If a pipe is frozen and cannot be thawed, having access to an alternative supply of water should be considered. For example, can you tap into the underground supply outside the shed and attach a hose to fill the water troughs?

However, it is critical to ensure that the connection to the underground supply is well-insulated after use and to drain all the water away from the connecting hose after the water troughs have been filled.

Milking machine

For many spring-calving dairy farmers, the milking season is soon coming to a close. However, between now and the drying-off period, there is still the risk of freezing weather conditions occurring.

Therefore, to reduce the risk of ice forming in milking machines, it is important to carry out the following steps.

These include:

  • Keeping the door closed in the parlour;
  • Installing a thermostatically-controlled heater in the plant room, which should cut in when the temperature drops below 10º;
  • Running the machine a little bit longer to drain away any excess water;
  • Circulating a saline solution through the milking machine. According to Teagasc, the saline (salt) solution is made by mixing 0.5kg of salt in 5 gallons of water. Salt drops the freezing point of the water solution.

The weather during the winter period can throw many surprises, so it’s no harm to have a back-up generator on-farm – especially those milking over the winter – in case of a power cut, which will be able to run the milking parlour for you.

As we all know, a power cut in the parlour will prevent farmers from milking their cows. Leaving cows un-milked for a long period of time can cause animals to become stressed, leading to an increased risk of mastitis – as well as other potential issues brought on by this stressful period – which is what we want to avoid.

Farmyard scrapers

Many farmers across the country – especially dairy farmers – have installed automatic scrapers in their cubicle sheds.

These scrapers are at risk of seizing and not functioning properly when snow collects on them and when the slurry freezes.

Therefore, it is important to clear snow from outdoor scrapers at the entrance to the tank and to keep the ratchet mechanism and tracks free from frozen slurry.

This should allow the scraper to move freely and prevent the build-up of animal faeces in the shed.