With winter in full swing here in the Interior, extra steps are needed to ensure the safety and comfort of our animals. This is most important when it comes to our family milk cow, Honey, who just had a calf last month. Here’s how we’re milking a cow during winter in Alaska.
We milk Honey, our Jersey dairy cow, twice a day at 7:30 am and 7:30 pm. These times work best for our family, especially with a nursing infant right now. Sometimes I milk alone but usually, our three girls are with me. They love helping and we can get the other barn chores completed too. So it just works for everyone to work together and get it all done.
During winter in Alaska, it’s dark most of the day, including when we head out in the morning and the evening. There’s nothing like the beautiful Alaskan sky with the Big Dipper and Northern Lights greeting us when we go out.
We have a few outside lights to help us get to the barn and thankfully our barn is pretty well lit. I keep a shop light attached to the stanchion to add a little extra light while we milk.
The darkness doesn’t bother us and the cold doesn’t really either, we love winter. However, below-zero temperatures add a little more work to the process. We spend about half an hour in the barn completing the task of milking. Extra gear for us and special care for our milking equipment is important.
We’ve had an unusually cold November, with negative temperatures within the first week. Keep in mind that because of our elevation, it’s usually 15-20 degrees warmer where our home is. We see some negative temperatures but rarely do we get down to negative 20, while down in town they get negative 30’s and even 40’s.
Thankfully Honey was born in Alaska and is well acclimated to the temperatures. Her winter coat is nice and thick so she doesn’t mind the chill.
Before we can head down to the barn and milk every morning and evening, low temperatures require us to bundle up. We keep our barn gear separate from our regular winter gear for cleanliness. Here’s what keeps me nice and warm:
- Insulated Coveralls–These are a must as far as I’m concerned! I can easily slip them on and they always keep me warm. Plus I can still move around and work in them without feeling uncomfortable.
- Boots-Living in Alaska, we have lots of boots, each with its own purpose. I don’t like mixing barn boots with those that we wear for other activities and I need heavy-duty winter boots since I’m out in the barn for a while milking twice a day. My fall/spring/summer barn boots don’t cut it when the temperatures dip so I wear a pair of good quality snow boots to keep my feet warm.
- Gloves and Liners-Having warm hands is so important. When you’re fingers are freezing, it makes any task much more difficult. I wear two pairs of gloves when I milk. I put on my clean liners first, which are actually from the winter gear that the Army issued my husband when we moved here. They’re nice and thick and I only use them to touch milking equipment so they never come into contact with barn surfaces.
My outer gloves are lined leather work gloves and I only touch barn surfaces with those. When I first get down to the barn I keep these on while I get Honey ready and do other barn chores. Then I remove them when I am ready to start milking and put them back on when I’m all done.
Of course, when I clean Honey’s teats before milking, I have to remove my gloves altogether as I dip cloths into a bucket of warm water. This gets a little chilly but the warm water helps and it doesn’t take too long. Then I can put the liners back on and milk.
- Hat and Gaiter-Of course, a thick hat is essential and I also wear a fleece neck gaiter that I can pull up onto my face when it’s really cold.
I love everything about hand milking, except doing it in below zero temperatures! So for now, we use a milking machine. It works great and saves us a lot of time in the barn. Yes, I have to wash the equipment after milking but at least I can do that in our warm home.
Because of how cold it is, we aren’t able to keep any of our milking equipment in the barn. This includes the milking bucket and attachments, the pump, and a tub of cleaning supplies (rags, hot water, teat dip). These all need to be carried down to the barn and carried back up to the house when we’re done. This is a minor inconvenience but the extra effort is important to protect our expensive equipment. Thankfully, my husband and the girls are always willing to help so that makes the load lighter.
With proper preparation with equipment and gear, milking a cow during winter in Alaska isn’t so bad!