Winter exercise in the snow brings joy and health benefits

At Mustaniemi farm, cows and young stock enjoy winter out in the snow. All animals over six months old have free access to an enclosed outdoor space all year round.

A herd of dairy cows frolics in the frosty winter scenery along the fence of their winter outdoor space. When observing everything the cattle of Finnish Valio dairy farmers Kati Montonen and Markku Pippuri are up to outside, it’s obvious that cows love snow and sub-zero temperatures.

“Rainy weather drives the cows inside. Reasonable sub-zero temperatures above 20 degrees don’t bother the animals, and they enjoy the snow,” says Kati Montonen.

“Outdoor exercise is good for a cow’s muscles, general health and hooves. Snow is also like a natural bath for the hooves, which is good for them and cleans the clefts. It also improves circulation in the hooves. Muscles in good condition areas important for cows as it is for us humans,” says Kristiina Sarjokari, herd health veterinarian at Valio.

Active animals that spend time outdoors are a cause for joy for a dairy farmer. “I feel that I have a unique opportunity to see the natural behaviour of cows when they are in their outdoor space. What could be a more welcome sight for a dairy farmer than happy cows!” Kati and Markku sum up.

Romping around in the fresh air lifts the cows’ spirits and, according to the herd health veterinarian, it is not insignificant. The animals have plenty of room to move around in their outdoor enclosure where they can perform species-typical behaviour: for example, tending to another cow’s hair by licking it and playing with others by jumping and butting heads.

“Exercise and taking care of each other reduce stress and release happy hormones in the system,” explains Kristiina Sarjokari. “Cows that move are more active and have a better appetite. Outdoor exercise in winter also strengthens their resistance. Physical activity also removes ketones from the body as they are exhaled. In addition, enjoying the great outdoors is good for the heart and lungs.”