Cold Cattle

Wednesday, January 12, 2011 - 10:52am

Frigid temperatures endanger Nebraska livestock.

It's not just people who get cold when the temperature drops outside.

Cattle producers struggle to keep their animals warm when the temperature gets this dangerously low.

Cracking ice and extra feed are just a couple ways Nebraska ranchers keep their herds warm and healthy as temperatures plummet.

"Cattle just need more feed. When the corn stocks are under snow it makes it hard for them to go out and dig through the snow to find corn," said Jamie Watts of the Watts Limousin Ranch.

Watts said with the extra time, fuel, and feed this cold weather costs about $2 per head of cattle, but he said it's just part of the producer's job to look after their livestock.

To keep his cattle warm Watts opened up pasture land that happens to be right next to some corn stalks.

Nearby trees provide some shelter from the wind and there's also a dry creek which provides low laying land and keeps them warm through the night.

"They can get in there and have some tall grass to lay in and some tree protection. Makes those winter nights a little easier," said Watts.

Cold conditions are perhaps especially dangerous since Watts has about 220 pregnant cows.

"You just want to try and avoid as much ice as you can. Ice, slip and fall, that does a lot of damage to the fetus," Watts said.

"If it gets extremely cold they will preserve their life first which can sometimes mean completely shifting the energy to keeping their selves warm and actually sacrifice the life of the calf," said veterinarian Adam Smith.

Smith said the calving season has already started and the cold provides challenges.

"Calves will get in that cold snow and they stay down there long enough they start to lose the tips of their ears and tail and in some cases. They just won't get up and they will die," said Smith.

Something ranchers like Watts hope not to see happen.

Dr. Smith says this winter has been relatively mild compared to last year, and he hasn't seen any weather related aborted or frostbitten calves.

He said it was weeks on end of cold weather that made last year particularly difficult for livestock.

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