After a fairly mild early winter season, Mother Nature is hitting the area with a vengeance, bringing back bitterly cold weather and winds above 20 mph.
Dangerous wind chills are expected for Thursday, Feb. 7, into Friday, Feb. 8, with temperatures struggling to get above the single digits below zero.
Humans can choose to stay inside when the weather is unbearable, but what of animals such as cattle?
Cattle producers prepare for these types of situations in different ways, depending on their operations and where their land is located. For instance, cattle producers east of Mobridge that feed more corn and silage will prepare differently than those who graze open pastures West River, according to cattle producer Justin Thompson.
Thompson comes from a ranching family and has two brothers and father in the same industry. His relatives are East River ranchers for the most part and his operation is West River.
He has two areas at which he runs herds. One is just west of the Highway 20 junction on U.S. Highway 12 and the other is near Bullhead.
On Tuesday, Thompson was preparing his herd at the Bullhead place for the week of winter weather ahead.
“Right now I am rolling hay out on a hill because there is no wind,” he said. “I will put out four days of hay in different pastures and each of those will have different protection from the storm.”
Thompson said he puts the hay in locations that will make the cattle move with the wind into the protected areas. Gates are used as a barrier to that hay until it is time for the cattle to move.
It is different on the junction place, where the family’s cattle are grazing pastures that surround the home place.
“Our cattle are usually out grazing as long as we can let them,” he said. “I like to keep the manure concentration in the pastures rather than in the calving areas.”
Thompson said his plan is to ultimately have the calving areas as clean as possible tin order for the calves to be born in clean and dry conditions.
“The calving areas may have the best protection, but we work to keep the grass in those areas as tall as possible and the ground as clean as possible for those calves to have a good place to land.”
He said for ranchers it is not just as simple as bringing cattle into those protected spaces because of the nature of the operation and how the operator manages his land.
One aspect of preparing for the storm is to ensure the cattle have enough feed to store the energy they need during the extreme cold and windy conditions. Cattle’s energy needs increase when temperatures drop. Some producers adapt their feed compensate for the animal’s increased energy needs.
Thompson is preparing his herds with extra hay before the weather turns dangerously cold.
He said there are different thoughts on whether or not feeding the cattle during the storm is a good idea. Thompson said a neighbor, who is a respected cattleman with years of experience told him it is best not feed them during the storm because they burn energy getting to the feed. Preparation is the key to this method.
Water is critical to ensure adequate feed intake. Thompson said it is important to have a flowing water source and uses a syphoning method to keep the water flowing from dams on the ranch.
With 100-feet of 1-inch plastic piping on hand, he chops a 12-inch hole into the ice on a dam. Pushing the piping into the hole, all 100-feet, he then waits until the water flows through the pipe.
Then he covers it with his hand and pulls the pipe away from the dam until the suction on his hand is strong. He explained the suction is strong enough to pull water from the dam all winter as long as the pipe is not compromised .
The pipe is laid in a tank tilted on an angle to keep the water flowing which keep it from freezing and the cattle have an open source of water through the cold conditions.
“I do all of the storm prep before it hits so during the storm, I can take care of my family,” he said.
Managing the weather
According to the South Dakota State University Extension Service, there are several methods to keep cattle safe during these weather conditions.
• Prepare windbreaks to mitigate the wind! The temperature will be cold, and the wind will make it feel colder. Therefore, clearing snow from permeant wind breaks or creating new man-made windbreaks from hay bales, trailers or sheds will help reduce the impact of the frigid wind on cattle.
• Supply ample bedding. Bedding the ground will provide warmth from the frozen ground surface, and also encourages cows to remain in the protected area. Young calves are reluctant to leave mom’s side so this will give them something warm to lay on also.
• Barns can provide protection from the wind, especially for soon to calve or newly calved cows. If cattle will be closed into barns for a short period of time, 50 square feet is the minimum amount of space that should be allocated. However, for longer periods of time, 100 square feet per cow or pair is recommended. Make sure barns are ventilated to reduce condensation which could lead to wet hides and cause health problems when cattle are turned back out into the cold weather.
• Feed them as much forage as they’ll eat! When cold weather hits, voluntary feed intake goes up and they will eat more to keep warm. If the forecasted weather will last more than 24 hours, start increasing forage availability 24 hours early and continue until the frigid temps have passed.
• Check water sources. If tank heaters are on, make sure they are functioning properly, and propane levels are full before the wind hits. Cattle will likely not consume as much water as normal but having some available during the cold spell will help with feed intake.
• Have generators and heaters on hand just in case a tractor doesn’t start or the power goes out. Strategically placing hay close to cattle can help decrease time spent delivering feed to cows during the cold weather. Or in case something breaks and can’t be fixed right away, simply moving a temporary fence to feed cows can be valuable.
• Lastly, personal safety is always a concern as producers travel out in the adverse weather conditions to care for their livestock. Dress in layers, have a full tank of fuel, and always have a phone or way to communicate handy.
– Katie Zerr –