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Published June 09, 2014, 09:52 AM

Despite cool spring, calving and lambing going well

Upper Midwest livestock producers generally have come through the long, cold winter and cool, wet spring just fine.

By: Jonathan Knutson, Agweek

Upper Midwest livestock producers generally have come through the long, cold winter and cool, wet spring just fine.

“There aren’t any big wrecks that I’m aware of,” says Dave Ollila, sheep field specialist with South Dakota State University Extension in Rapid City.

“There always will be some problems. But nothing more than usual this year,” says Dave Hinneland, a Circle, Mont., sheep producer.

Other area livestock officials say calving and lambing season, now in the home stretch, has gone well. There had been concern that the cold winter would stress pregnant animals, leading to calving and lambing problems. That concern was exacerbated by the cool, wet spring; disease is more likely to strike young calves and lambs in those conditions.

To be sure, the unfavorable weather created problems in some areas. For instance, parts of Minnesota received heavy rains this spring, and some ranchers in those areas have struggled with calving problems, says Dar Geiss, a Pierz, Minn., producer and president of the Minnesota State Cattlemen’s Association.

“We’ve had some areas where the calf losses are moderately significant,” he says.

On balance, though, area livestock producers avoided widespread, serious problems this spring.

Several factors are responsible for that.

• Producers invested in high-quality feed, helping to offset cold temperatures, officials say.

• Though the winter was cold, few livestock producers faced both unusually low temperatures and heavy precipitation at the same time for extended periods.

“The wet alone, the cool alone, can be managed. It’s managing both that’s difficult,” says Carl Dahlen, beef cattle specialist with the North Dakota State University Extension Service.

• Badly needed warm, dry weather arrived in late May after weeks of cool, wet conditions.

Diseases such as scours, or calf diarrhea, are most common when calves are born in confined areas where other calves were born earlier.

Disease was beginning to become an issue for some cattle producers in late May. But the dry, warm weather allowed them to shift animals from barns and other confined areas into pastures, Dahlen says.

Unusual weather this winter and spring has affected producers in other ways, too, both good and bad.

Because the winter was so cold, many ranchers fed more hay than usual. And because spring was so cool, grass in pastures began growing later than usual, forcing producers to feed hay longer than they normally do.

“Everyone was down to their last few bales” this spring, Ollila says.

But warmer temperatures in late May caused grass in pastures and hayfields to begin growing rapidly.

“The grass has really taken off,” Hinneland says.

The May precipitation, though troublesome at the time, will help grass grow, he says.

“We’re sitting pretty well moisture-wise,” Hinneland says.

“It looks to be a really good year for grazing,” Geiss says. “The summer is really setting up well.”

Strong prices help

Favorable prices further brighten the outlook for livestock producers.

Cattle prices are at record highs and are expected to stay strong for several years. American consumers have continued to buy beef, even at record prices.

“The market looks good. The demand looks good,” Geiss says of cattle.

Lamb prices have rallied from unprofitable levels to a point where Upper Midwest sheep producers say they can make money. Drought in some parts of the country, including California, have cut into U.S. sheep numbers, affecting supply and prices.

“They’ve been volatile. But they’ve rebounded well,” Hinneland says of lamb prices.

Cattle and sheep are particularly important in both South Dakota and Montana. The two states rank in the top 10 nationally in annual sheep and cattle production.

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