Cornell Cooperative Extension Dairy Management Specialist, Alycia Drwencke, shares information on identifying how cows are coping with the cold weather

CCE Dairy Management shares information identifying how cows are coping with the cold

Are Those Cows Cold?

SOUTHWEST, NY (December 21, 2020) – Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program shares tips for identifying how a cow is coping with the cold weather.

The cold weather and snow are in full swing, with several months of these climatic conditions ahead. During this season, it is common to still see cows outside of a barn, perhaps even in the middle of a blizzard. While this may seem strange or concerning, it is important to remember that cows are better equipped to handle inclement weather than humans, and farmers closely monitor their animals for signs they are cold.

In order to manage in cold weather, cows have three primary adaptations. First, cows will grow a thick, long haired coat that insulates them from wind and cold temperatures. As long as their coat stays dry and clean, it will help protect them. If a cow is seen with a layer of snow on their back, that means their coat is doing its job and keeping the cold out. Second, cows will increase their body weight as farmers feed them extra portions before the winter sets in to help them cope with the cold. While it is important to make sure cows don’t gain too much weight, a small increase that is managed by the farm’s nutritionist is helpful. Third, cows experience increased metabolic rates to produce more body heat. This increase in body heat helps keep them warm and is made possible by the farmer feeding larger quantities during the cold season. Cows will convert the energy in their feed to body heat, keeping their internal temperature more stable. Providing adequate amounts of feed and access to shelter combined with the cows’ physical adaptations can help them successfully cope with cold weather.

In addition, cows can be monitored for signs of cold stress. These can include cows gathering in tight clusters, decreased heart and respiration rate or body temperature, shivering, cold extremities (such as ears, udders, tails, hooves, or legs) or rigid muscles. Cows are more at risk of being cold if they are skinny, their hair coat is wet or muddy, or they are either very young or old. If cows do not have adequate protection, frost bite is more likely to occur in sensitive body parts such as ears, udders, or hooves. Prevention and timely identification and correction of a problem are key during cold weather.

While cows are better adapted to cold weather than humans, farms should monitor their herd for signs of cold stress. With a little extra care, cows can manage colder temperatures in a safe and productive way.

For more information about caring for dairy calves and cows in the cold, contact Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management Specialist, at 517-416-0386 or

Cornell Cooperative Extension’s Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program specialists are here to help provide research-based resources and support during this challenging time. Their team of four specialists includes Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Farm Business Management (716-640-0522 or; Joshua Putman, Field Crops (716-490-5572 or; Alycia Drwencke, Dairy Management (517-416-0386 or; and Amy Barkley, Livestock Management (716-640-0844 or While specialists are working remotely at this time, they are still offering consultations via phone, text, email, videoconferencing, and mail. They are also providing weekly updates with timely resources and connections via email and hardcopy and virtual programming. For more information, or to be added to their notification list, contact Katelyn Walley-Stoll, Team Leader, at 716-640-0522, or visit their website

The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops Program is the newest Cornell Cooperative Extension regional program and covers Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, and Steuben Counties. The Southwest New York Dairy, Livestock, and Field Crops regional specialists work with Cornell faculty and Extension educators to address the issues that influence the agricultural industry in New York by offering educational programming and research based information to agricultural producers, growers, and agribusinesses in the Southwestern New York Region. Cornell Cooperative Extension is an employer and educator recognized for valuing AA/EEO, Protected Veterans, and Individuals with Disabilities and provides equal program and employment opportunities.

If you would like more information about this topic, please contact Alycia Drwencke at 517-416-0386 or For more information about Cornell Cooperative Extension, contact your county’s Association Executive Director. Allegany County – Laura Hunsberger, or 585-268-7644. Cattaraugus County – Dick Rivers, or 716-699-2377. Chautauqua County – Emily Reynolds, or 716-664-9502. Erie County – Diane Held, or 716-652-5400. Steuben County – Tess McKinley,, or 607-664-2301. 

Last updated January 4, 2021