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Do Cows like Cold Weather?


The Ideal temperature for Cows

Weather extremes (winter 2013-14) around the U.S. have caused widespread drought to California and artic cold to the rest of the U.S. Being creatures of habit, cows don’t enjoy extremes. Read more about which weather cows like best

We’ve all heard the saying “Happy cows come from California.” Some find the statement to be controversial, while others strongly affirm that cows in California are happier. If you we’re a cow, there’s no doubt that you’d want to be a California cow. There’s none of that white stuff during the winter. In fact, most California dairy cows have never gotten to experience the snow in their life. Poor deprived, California cows..

But what is the ideal temperature for cows? Do cows like warm weather, or cold? Where is the best place for cows to live?

**Happy California Cows**

The California Drought

The winter (2013-14) weather in California has been unusually mild this year.

In fact, California is in a continued drought. 2013 was the driest year on record in California. It’s been really dry, and we haven’t received much rain at all. To illustrate the severity of the drought, one source notes how far we are from typical rainfall averages:

Downtown Los Angeles received a meager 3.60 inches of rain since Jan. 1, the driest calendar year since 1877. Normally, downtown would be soaked with about 15 inches of precipitation.

Similarly, San Francisco recorded just 5.59 inches of rain since the beginning of the year, 18 inches below normal. Sacramento is 14 inches below average after receiving 6.13 inches of rain this year. (Source)

The drought is becoming so serious that Governor Jerry Brown is expected to declare the state as being in a drought emergency later this month (Jan 2014). California Drought 2013

Many of the farmers in California will have problems getting enough water from irrigation districts to irrigate their crops next year. Luckily, many farmers have ground wells to pump their own water. Unfortunately this is only a temporary solution as the water table in many areas of California is rapidly dropping.

Other negatives, of course, include the dry, gloomy landscape. Usually the hills are bright green, and lush with fresh grass.

The cows love the dry weather though; it’s perfect weather for them.

The Ideal Temperature

Interestingly, though the ideal temperature range for dairy cows is between 25 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. (Source) Like other mammals, cows are warm blooded and need to maintain a constant core body temperature. The normal body temperature for a dairy cow is around 101°F.

Cows are pretty good at withstanding cold temperatures. If you think about it, they have leather coats on, along with a fermentation vat (their rumen) to generate heat.

An Artic Winter

If you’re living in other parts of the U.S., you’re probably getting tired of the rabbling about the “tough” winter California’s been having. Recently, there have been many stories from other farmers across the nation, and how they are dealing with the cold weather. attach (1)

One article describes how dairy farmers in Wisconsin are dealing with -20 degree weather, dairy farmers in Minnesota dealing with -54 degree weather, and dairy farmers in Eastern Kansas dealing with -30 degree weather. Negative temperatures don’t sound very fun.

Extreme weather like that can be bad for cattle, especially dairy cows. Dairy cows teats can get frostbite if they’re teats are wet after milking. The extreme cold can also give cow’s cold stress. In extreme cold, cows will increase their metabolic rate to generate heat to maintain body temperature. Many weeks of extreme cold will stress cows out, and wear them down.

For more information about cows and cold stress, check out this article.

On our dairy, the baby calves wear coats when it’s cold out, read more here.

Shelters/ Housing on Dairies

Luckily, many people have shelters for their dairy cows. In the Midwest, cows are usually housed in barns. Free stall, or tie stall barns are pretty common to keep cows out of the cold weather. Many of the dairy farms in the Midwest have curtains on their barns to keep the wind out. The curtains roll down to enclose the barn. Minimizing wind is the key to keeping cows warm.

Many other modern dairies in places like South Dakota have cross ventilated barns. Basically the cows are in an enclosed barn with fans on the outside to keep a fresh breeze going through. The body heat from the cows heats the structure, so if it’s -50 outside, it significantly warmer inside. Cows really like this kind of barn. It’s good at moderating temperatures, and keeping the temperature consistent.

In California, we don’t have problems keeping cows warm. Instead the goal of our structures is to keep the cows dry.

Dairy Barn with Curtains

** Dairy barns in cold regions often have curtains like this to keep the cows warm, and shelter them from the cold wind**

Free stall Bed   Freestall Bed

**In California, Freestall barns give cows a warm, dry place to rest during the winter**

Do cows like the cold?

So do cows like the cold? Based on what researchers have found, cows probably prefer moderate weather. With an Ideal temperature around 25-65 degrees Fahrenheit, cows probably do enjoy the weather to be a bit colder. It’s not like they can take their coats off when it gets hot. california girls

In California, cows often have to deal with some extreme warm weather which can cause heat stress. In other parts of the U.S., cows may have to deal with the extreme cold. The cows can get hypothermia, and frostbite just like people. Unfortunately, there’s not a “perfect” place for cows to live. There are, however, ways to manage the weather extremes (for both hot and cold) with proper shelters, and tools like fans.

Cows generally like moderate temperatures that are consistent. Consistency is key when managing cows. Being creature of habit, they just don’t like dramatic change especially when it comes to weather.

So if you can help manage the cow’s environment with proper housing or shelters, cows will probably be happy living just about anywhere.

Let me know

What are your thoughts? Let me know what you think in the comments below


  1. Very interesting. I’m from Texas so the cattle here are mostly meat cows. I’ve never seen actual dairy cows till I visited western Pennsylvania, Ohio, and outside the Chicago area recently.

    • Most of the dairies are in west Texas and the Panhandle. They build pretty nice barns to keep the cows from freezing in the winter. The weather can get pretty extreme out there, but the barns can really help

  2. so on a big dairy farm with 1,000 cows or more, do they have enough barn space for all those cows?

    • Yes, you want to be sure there is enough room so the cow does not feel crowded. Many farms measure sleeping rate (number of cows sleeping) to make sure there are not to many in a pen. If she is crowded, she will give you less milk

  3. I was curious about the temps cows can withstand. I live in Ohio and was driving by a dairy farm. It was about 20° and the cows were in a stable with no side walls and I was thinking how cold it was outside. I guess I just felt sorry for them.

    • Yeah cows do like it a bit colder- their rumen is a big fermentation vat that generates heat. Which makes hot temps hard for them. Good shelter is important for cows- if you can minimize the effects of weather, they do a lot better. Healthier and happier

  4. I see Holstien heifers out in the wind in 30 below. The are not happy – they are suffering in the wind with no shelter on Gunther’s Dairy farm in Newark Valley NY, but the owners don’t care

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