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Published April 16, 2012, 09:00 AM

Great spring for livestock

In a lifetime in the sheep business, Dave Hinneland has seen springs that were good for lambing. He’s also seen springs in which lamb prices were strong.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

In a lifetime in the sheep business, Dave Hinneland has seen springs that were good for lambing. He’s also seen springs in which lamb prices were strong.

But the Circle, Mont., producer isn’t sure if he’s ever seen a spring that brought this combination of favorable prices and birthing weather.

“I don’t know if we’ve had one that’s better,” he says.

Sheep and cattle producers across the Upper Midwest are enjoying one of the finest springs in memory. Prices for both lamb and beef are at or near record highs, and the exceptionally dry, warm spring has been a boon for cattle and sheep producers. Cattle and sheep typically give birth in the spring, and warm, dry conditions reduce the danger that young livestock will become ill. For instance, scours, or calf diarrhea, is a greater threat when young calves are stressed by cold, wet weather.

In contrast to conditions this year, much of the region was hit with heavy snow and cold temperatures in the first third of 2012, which hindered lambing and calving last spring.

A few examples from the North Dakota Agricultural Weather Network of the region’s unusually warm weather from mid-January to mid-April:

• The average temperature in Brorson, Mont. was 31 degrees, 9 degrees above normal.

• The average temperature in Britton, S.D., was 32 degrees, 11 degrees above normal.

• The average temperature in Cando, N.D., was 24 degrees, 8 degrees above normal.

• The average temperature in Ada, Minn. was 28 degrees, 9 degrees above normal.

"The weather was just great. I didn't have any trouble this winter," says Wyman Scheetz, a Center, N.D., sheep producer.

The combination of good weather and attractive prices makes this spring "the best I can remember. Nothing else comes close," he says.

Historically, North Dakota cattle producers viewed March 1 to 15 as a peak period for calving, says Julie Ellingson, executive vice president of the North Dakota Stockmen’s Association.

But recent winters have brought so much snow and cold that some ranchers in the state pushed back calving later in the spring, she says.

Now, April 1 to 15 tends to be the period when many cattle producers hope to calf, she says.

Concern about pastures

The Upper Midwest has been so dry since last fall that most of the region now is in low-stage drought, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, a Lincoln, Neb., based partnership of federal and academic scientists.

The dry conditions concern some South Dakota cattle producers, says Jodie Hickman, executive director of the South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association.

Some pastures aren’t “greening up” as quickly as normal because of the dryness, and that could be troublesome for producers who soon will be relying on those pastures, she says.

Other than that, South Dakota producers seem pleased with how they’re faring this spring, she says.

The scarcity of snow this winter was preferable to having too much of it, which was the case the past few winters, Ellingson says.

But while birthing conditions so far this spring have been wonderful, area livestock producers know that late-spring blizzards remain a possibility.

Last year, for instance, an April 30 to May 1 blizzard in western North Dakota and eastern Montana brought winds of 60 miles-an-hour and dumped more than a foot of wet, heavy snow in some areas. Hundreds of utility poles were knocked down, leaving some areas without power for several days.

South Dakota’s 2010 lamb crop ranked third nationally, Montana was fifth, North Dakota 15th.

South Dakota’s 2010 calf crop ranked sixth nationally, with Montana seventh and North Dakota 14th.

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