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Published January 16, 2012, 11:03 AM

A great winter for ranchers

Unusually warm temperatures this winter are a treat for most residents of the Northern Plains, but nobody may be enjoying the weather more than area ranchers.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Unusually warm temperatures this winter are a treat for most residents of the Northern Plains, but nobody may be enjoying the weather more than area ranchers.

Besides making working conditions less onerous, the fine weather also is helping ranchers’ wallets.

“This weather has been just great. It makes working with cattle a lot easier. It also means we don’t need to buy as many groceries” (feed for cattle), says Dale Lueck, an Aitkin, Minn., cattleman and a spokesman for the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

Cattle need to generate more body heat — and consequently need more feed — in colder conditions.

The summer of 2011 was wet in parts of the region, which kept some ranchers from harvesting as much hay as they’d like. So being able to feed less hay than usual is particularly welcome this winter, Lueck says.

The region is free or nearly free of snow, which also benefits cattle producers, says Jason Schmidt, a Medina, N.D., rancher and president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

Cattle expend more energy — and consequently need more feed — when they struggle with deep snow.

Not needing to move snow with tractors helps, too.

“Fuel prices are getting up there, so that’s a saving for us,” Schmidt says.

Almost a heat wave

Temperatures across the region this winter routinely have soared above freezing, sometimes to record highs, while lows have rarely fallen below zero. A few examples, using data from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network, of the consistently above-

average temperatures:

In Sidney, Mont., the average high in December was 35.7 degrees, 9.9 degrees above normal. The average low for the month was 17 degrees, 9.1 degrees above normal. The average high and low in the first third of January also were about 10 degrees above normal.

In Britton, S.D., the average high in December was 35.3 degrees, 8.6 degrees above normal. The average low for the month was 15.3 degrees, 9.2 degrees above normal. The average high in the first third of January was 11.5 degrees above normal, with the average low for the period 6 degrees above normal.

In Rugby, N.D., the average high in December was 31.2 degrees, 8.5 degrees above normal. The average low for the month was 13.5 degrees, 7.4 degrees above normal. The average high in the first third of January was 12.1 degrees above normal, with the average low for the period 11.7 degrees above normal.

In Roseau, Minn., the average high in December was 27.4 degrees, 8.7 degrees above normal. The average low for the month was 12 degrees, 8.5 degrees above normal. The average high in the first third of January was 10.4 degrees above normal, with the average low for the period 6.5 degrees above normal.

Not out of the woods yet

Ranchers know better than to assume the good weather will last.

At least a few stretches of extended cold weather are virtually certain before spring, Schmidt says.

And ranchers probably can expect a snowstorm or two in the next few months, Lueck says.

Still, the days are getting longer and ranchers appreciate that the good weather has extended to the middle of January, he says.

The past few winters generally were difficult, so fine conditions this winter are even more welcome than usual, Schmidt says.

“It’s just good for us mentally,” he says.

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