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A Typical Day – Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Years ago, it seems like it was normal for practically everyone to be raised on a farm.  If you happened to be a “town kid”, most likely you had grandparents or other close relatives who probably still farmed.  As the generations have progressed, family farms are becoming more scarce in many parts of the world and ‘corporate farms are the norm’.  So whenever we mention that we are small family dairy farmers, it tends to peak a lot of interest.  So much so, that I decided I’d share a little bit of our winter life on a Minnesota dairy farm today!

Early To Bed, Early To Rise.  Makes A Man Healthy Wealthy And Wise

Well, the first part of Benjamin Franklin’s famous quote is most certainly true for many farmers….. most of the time any ways.  My husband would argue the fact that he never quite makes it to bed early enough though.  (To be fair, I could never survive on the little bit of sleep that man gets!)

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm {Background}

Welcome to our winter life on a Minnesota dairy farm. 

Free Stall Barn

Our milking cows are housed in a large free-stall barn. Freestalls are a key component of a dairy free stall housing system and can provide a comfortable place for dairy cows to lie down and rest. In a free stall barn, cows are not restrained in their stalls and are able to enter and leave as they like. They are also able to have free choice of feed and water.

Milking Herd & Young Stock

 For the past several years now, we have consistently been milking between 90 and 100 cows in our swing 12 parlor.  All young stock (the babies) are born here on the farm and then the heifers (girl calves) are raised into adulthood by us.  We were selling our young bull calves but have recently started keeping them as we are considering raising some up in the summer and then selling in the fall.

Keep reading for all the details about life on a Minnesota Dairy Farm and I hope you enjoy your winter day with us!

The Day Begins

Wake Up – 2:30 AM

When I originally wrote this post several years ago, my husband would get up at 3:30am. For the last couple years, it’s been even earlier!

Often times, the farmer wakes early as he’s up before the day begins for most.  In the morning, my husband gets out of bed by 2:30am.  (Unless that snooze button gets the best of him… which does happen from time to time and then it’s by 2:45am.)  After a quick snack of a cookie or glass of milk, he’s out the door.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Check Baby Calves And Dry Cows – 3 AM

After heading out the door, it’s a quick stop at the calf barn to make sure all is well.  Then he circles over to the dry cow pen (the place where mama cows who will calve soon are housed) to see if there are any new calf arrivals or any cows in labor.

Mix Feed – 3:15 AM

Because we are a working dairy farm, the animals are a huge part of our lives.  Before milking, Mike takes time to mix feed.  He has to get haylage and corn silage from large silage bags and then add all the feed components into our TMR (total mixed rations) mixer.   (Think of a TMR as a large Kitchen Aid mixer.)  Once the feed rations are measured and mixed together, the feed is then placed before the cattle.  The cows and heifers all receive fresh feed for the day before he starts morning milking.

Milking Time – 5 AM

At about 4:45am, it’s time to start bringing the cows down from the free stall barn to the parlor and get ready for milking.  The cows are placed in what’s called a ‘holding pen’ and then 12 cows are loaded into each side of the parlor where they are milked.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Once the first side of the parlor is full, those cows’ teats are cleaned.  Then, each cow is “started”.  This means that you gently squeeze milk out of each teat to let them know it’s time to let their milk drop.  After a quick wipe to dry them, the milkers are placed on and each cow is milked.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Once the first side of 12 cows are all on and being milked, it’s time to load the second side.  Then, just repeat the process again and again until every cow is milked.   {This style parlor is called a swing 12 since you milk 12 cows on one side. Then simply swing the milkers over to the other and do it again. It’s wonderful to no longer have to drag the heavy milking units around a barn as a parlor really simplifies things.}

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Once a cow is finished being milked, their teats are dipped with a post teat dip.  This helps to keep the teat soft and protected from germs as well as the frigid cold.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Clean Up – about 7:00 AM

Once all the cows are milked and sent back up to the free stall barn, it’s time to clean up.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

The entire parlor needs to be hosed down with our fireman’s hose.  Milkers need to be cleaned as well as the pipeline (where the milk travels to get to the bulk tank).  Everything needs to be put back into tip-top shape.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Feed And Check Calves – 7:30 AM

Our calves are housed in a small calf barn in the middle of our farm.  When they are first born, they are fed by bottle for a couple days before being moved to our automatic calf feeder.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

The automatic calf feeder is set to “credits”.  Each calf is allowed a certain amount of credits, depending on age.  As the calf gets older, they start getting more feed and their credits decrease as they are slowly weaned off the milk replacer.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm
Adding milk replacer to the calf feeder.

At this time each day, Mike takes time to clean the feeder, check on how much each calf is eating, and give feed.  This is an important opportunity to monitor behavior and the calves’ health to ensure none are getting sick.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Standing and watching each calf for a few minutes to make sure everyone is healthy and energetic is also a huge part of checking on the calves each morning.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm
The youngest calves are all wearing jackets. Once they are a little older and graduate to the next pen, the jackets are removed.

Scrape Holding Pen And Push Up Feed – 8:00 AM

Back to the barn now.  Of course, while the cows are waiting to be milked, some decide to poop and pee.  So after each milking, the holding pen is scraped with the skid loader and scraper to keep it as clean as possible.  {I’ll save you from photos of that job.}

Then, a quick switch of skid loader attachments and feed is pushed up with the feed scraper.  **It’s important to push the cows feed up multiple times a day because as they eat, some remaining feed gets pushed out of their reach. Leftover feed is removed and put in the stacking slab each day and fresh feed is put down so anything not eaten is wasted.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm
A really great thing about having a free stall barn now is that the cows can walk around as they wish. Which means they can also come up and eat in any of the headlocks as well. (They are set to open so the cows can stick their heads in and out.)

Breakfast Break – 8:30 AM

After all that work, it’s time for a quick breakfast break.  Many days, I’ll whip up some sort of egg dish for Mike.  He typically eats, takes a quick 15-30 minute nap, and then heads back out to winter life on a dairy farm again.  (However, on really busy days, I make him an egg sandwich and bring it outside for him.  Those days, he skips his break and eats as he works.)

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

General Farm Work – 9:00 to 11:55 AM

  • Cleaning Pens
  • Bedding Down
  • Necessary Repairs
  • Parts Run

And any other things that need to be done often such as herd health checks, sick cow treatments, vet visit, etc.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Lunch Time – Noon

Because we homeschool and farm, lunch is our big family meal.  I tend to make most things from scratch so you’ll usually find us sitting down to our big home-cooked meal together around noon almost every day of the week; except during field work.  Meals such as Simple Slow Cooker Mexican Chicken with sides or even pork chops are the norm here. You can find many of our favorite recipes here.

Mexican Chicken Recipe

Power Nap – 12:45 to 1:15 PM

After putting in 9 1/2 hours of work already, it’s time for a quick power nap because many nights, Mike only gets 5 hours of sleep or less. He really counts on these power naps to get him through the day.

General Farm Upkeep With A Little Fun

In the afternoon hours, you’ll find Mike doing a variety of things, depending on the day.  This includes:

  • Bookkeeping Paperwork
  • Snow Pushing
  • Errands
  • Oil Changes On Tractors Or Vehicles
  • Any Additional Urgent General Farm Work That Didn’t Get Done In The Morning
  • Helping Out The Elderly Neighbor
Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

During the winter months, we typically take an hour or so as family time as well.  During this time, you can find us playing a board game together, playing outside, or just hanging out talking.  We try to take advantage of this time because spring and fall field work months don’t allow us this luxury.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Snack Time – 4:30 PM

We usually see Mike run back to the house again each afternoon to grab a quick bite.  Since we don’t do a large supper most days, he just grabs a snack at this time.  Sometimes he’ll sit down at the counter, chat, and eat his snack with some milk; other times he grabs something and eats it on the way out the door.

Chore Time – 4:45 PM

Well, here we are again!  It’s time to push up feed, check and feed baby calves, and check dry cows again for any new calves.  He also will take a general look around the farm to make sure all is well.

Evening Milking And Clean Up – 5:00 to 7:30 PM

Our cows get milked twice a day so it’s back into the barn for another round of milking and clean up.  Milking procedures are the same for both morning and night milking.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Head To The House – 7:45 PM

After a final look around the barn to ensure all is cleaned up and back in place for the next day, it’s time to head into the house.

Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm

Once inside, Mike will grab a snack or bowl of cereal and hang out with everyone for a little bit before jumping in the shower.  Then it’s pajamas for everyone, teeth brushing, Bible, family hug line, and heading to bed.

Call It A Day – 9 PM

By this time, the farmer is exhausted so it’s time for bed.

So tell me, did you grow up on a farm?  Or have you ever visited one?  What do you think of our Winter Life On A Minnesota Dairy Farm?  Is it what you expected?


gloria patterson

Monday 16th of January 2023

I am tired from just reading what all he does in a day. And that he does not have any help...............WOW

MANY years ago my father had a dairy farm and we did the milking twice a day. There were 3 kids and dad to do the milking and our milkers kinda look like yours but there have been changes. I remember we took turns cleaning out the milk tank. But our barn area was NOT as nice or as much work as yours....... And it was in middle TN so not as cold in the winter.


Friday 13th of January 2023

Can't imagine getting up that early on a "lovely" winter morning

kathy m

Thursday 14th of February 2019

where did my prior comment go? Dairy farming takes a lot of hard work and dedication! There are no sick days - I admire the unwavering commitment that dairy farmers have. Delivered propane to keep the barns warm and saw this many times!


Friday 15th of February 2019

Thanks for commenting Kathy! It is a lot of hard work. You helped play an important part it sounds like too!

kathy m

Thursday 14th of February 2019

Visited dairy farms frequently - I supplied the propane to keep the barn warm! It is hard work and dedication - never a day off - taking good care of those precious dairy cows!

Deanna Marissa

Thursday 7th of February 2019

I have never got a chance to live in farm. but I am sure It would be an awesome experience. Love your pics.