This has been quite the winter. And once everyone is done lamenting the cold weather, broken limbs (people and trees), and slippery driveways, the conversations often turn to the cows.
“How are the cows doing in this weather?” is a common question, both in person and online.
Though research indicates cows do better in very cold rather than tropical temperatures, the extremely low temperatures in southeast Wisconsin this past January were challenging. By this time of year, cows have put on a thicker coat, and some breeds, especially beef cattle kept outdoors, have put on an extra layer of fat as well.
But, as our vet once told us, the cows are carrying around their own furnace. The fermentation of hay within a cow’s stomach produces the heat they need during cold weather. Grain is too quickly digested and does not stay in the stomach long enough to sustain heat — the cows need good quality hay at this time of year to keep that natural heating system working properly.
The colder the weather, the more often we put fresh hay in the feeders. Maximum internal warmth is produced 6-8 hours after eating, so it’s especially important that the cows have feed late in the day to keep warm overnight.
Additionally, it is vital that animals are kept dry, but also have adequate fresh air during the cold weather. Our cows have access to the outdoors and can come and go as they please, and most afternoons find them out in the cow yard standing in the sun. However, we check the wind direction online and close the barn doors on one side or the other most evenings so the cows will stay warmer and dry overnight.
So the cows are all keeping warm and growing their calves. We follow Mother Nature’s plan and do not have the calves born year-round, but instead during the late spring when they have the best chance for a healthy start at life. We expect the first new calf in late April, and will begin milking and making cheese soon after.
All this time indoors during the last few months has meant a lot of time in the kitchen exploring cookbooks and experimenting with cheese dishes. Here’s a recipe that uses aged cheddar to create delicious cheese crackers, equally at home in the lunchbox or next to a glass of wine.
Little Cheddar Stars
1 ½ cups (100 grams) finely grated cheddar
1 ½ TBS softened butter
1/3 cup (50 grams) flour
¼ tsp baking powder
Put all the ingredients into a food processor and process several minutes until a soft, smooth dough is formed. Form a small disc shape of dough, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Roll the dough about 1/8” thick on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes with a 1” cookie cutter. Place 1” apart on parchment lined cookie sheets and bake about 8 minutes until lightly browned. Remove from the cookie sheet and place on racks – they will become crisp as the cool. Makes about 36 small crackers.
Denise and Terry Woods are cheesemakers and owners of Highfield Farm Creamery on State Line Road in Walworth. If you’d like to ask a question to be answered in this column, please email Info@HighfieldFarm.com.