VOLGA, S.D. — Temperatures across the northern Plains
reaching well into the negative double digits. With those drastic drops in temperatures, livestock producers had to work extra hard to keep their animals from experiencing cold stress.
With temperatures dropping below -20 degrees, coupled with near 40 mile per hour winds this week, the Vander Wal family makes sure all their cattle have extra bedding in the feed yard in Volga, South Dakota.
“From a feedlot perspective, obviously we are more confined, so then we come in and bed cattle with generally corn stalks as bedding, we try to keep them as dry as possible and provide as much corn stalk bedding where we think is feasible,” said Dean Vander Wal of Vander Wal Yards.
Shelter belts play a crucial role in protecting the cattle on pasture from these frigid weather conditions.
“We have been blessed over the years that our parents and grandparents have built nice shelterbelts, so the cattle have access, as far as the cows, to get on any side of the shelter belt that they want to,” Vander Wal said.
They try their best to determine where the cows will be during the cold snap.
“We try to pinpoint where we think they are going to be at, and that’s where we are putting down some more bedding for them, trying to feed in those locations so they will stay hopefully out of the wind,” Vander Wal said.
Temperatures don’t need to be below zero for cattle to experience cold stress.
“For cattle here in the northern Plains that have a dry, a full, heavy, dry, winter hair coat, that would be anything under about 18 degrees or so,” said
South Dakota State University Extension.
SDSU Extension has partnered with the
to develop the
which shows the stress the livestock are under in the different temperatures across South Dakota.
“It’s designed for both heat and cold stress, so if you were to go to
that will take you to the Mesonet site and on the tools menu if you click on livestock stress then you can look up the stress for both adults and newborns,” Rusche said.
The tool also gives a look at the upcoming forecast.
“Perhaps we get some changes with cloud cover or so forth, how many hours are we in some of those severe areas, are we getting some relief during the sunny mid-day when there is some sun,” Rusche said. “It’s another tool in the toolbox to help livestock managers better assess what’s going on from an environment standpoint and how they might be able to provide and improve the conditions for the cattle that are under their care.”
When looking for signs of cold stress in cattle, one of the first things you will notice is the cattle trying to conserve body heat.
“So, they are going to bunch up in groups, try to minimize their surface area by hunching up a little bit to protect themselves from the effects of cold temperatures, they are going to seek out wind protection, or they will seek out bedding,” Rusche said.
Cattle will also increase their feed intake.
“For things like the cow herd or calves that are on high roughage diets, we need to be prepared to offer more feedstuffs simply because to let those cattle express that desire to eat more and provide additional calories,” Rusche said.
Increasing feed intake looks different for different cattle diets.
“For cattle on high concentrate diets, it becomes slightly more complicated, we want to be careful about simply providing additional feed with a lot of that going to be starch, because we don’t want to get into a situation where we create additional problems by adding more starch to the rumen, affecting fermentation and potential digestive upsets or death,” Rusche said. “In those cases, maybe slight increases in roughage may be appropriate to provide some additional measures of safety and insurance, as well as provide an opportunity for greater feed intake.”
In a feedlot, it can be hard to maintain consistent feed times during these weather events.
“With blowing snow, cold temperatures, you know, this has a way of exposing any weaknesses we might have in terms of physical facilities, fuel filters that gel, tractors that won’t start, snow that needs to be moved, so anything we can do to, and it’s easier said than done, but to maintain a consistent feed delivery is going to be helpful in terms of keeping cattle on feed,” Rusche said.
Water can also be a concern as the temperature drops.
“The nutrient we forget about often is water. We want to make sure first that our waterers are functioning,” Rusche said. “Maintaining a clean, warm water supply is very important to help maintain cattle intake.”
And in these winter weather conditions, Rusche says it important to take care of the people taking care of the livestock as well.
“You know, these are really dangerous wind chill conditions, and we want to make sure we are bundling up appropriately and not getting ourselves into harm’s way because of these conditions we are dealing with right now,” Rusche said.
But at Vander Wal Yards, their cattle are ready to handle these challenging conditions.
“I think those animals have been built and they have been genetically put in place and God has provided them with the proper knowledge I think to prepare for the winter,” Vander Wal said. “Cattle are pretty wise, I mean we may not think so at times, but I think they are wise that they are preparing their bodies as the seasons change.”
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