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Published December 21, 2012, 12:00 AM

Cattle are warm-blooded, winter-weather ready

Winter weather woes have not been a major concern for North Dakota’s livestock producers in recent years because of warmer seasons.

Winter weather woes have not been a major concern for North Dakota’s livestock producers in recent years because of warmer seasons.

But even in the worst of winters in The Peace Garden State, Peter Solemsaas, executive director of the Farm Service Agency in Dickinson, said livestock stand up pretty well to the elements.

Especially, he said, since farm animals are hardy creatures, which lessens their chances of death due to North Dakota’s often harsh winter conditions, like sub-zero temperatures and blizzards.

“It isn’t that common (of a cause of death) actually, but livestock deaths can occur in the winter if it gets really cold out,” Solemsaas said. “Those types of livestock deaths are more likely to happen when it is 20- or 30-below outside over several days or if there is a

blizzard.”

With temperatures being fairly mild for North Dakota in early December, Solemsaas said livestock seem to be handling the weather conditions well.

Gerald Stokka, associate professor of livestock stewardship for North Dakota State University, said, “It is very rare for adult beef cattle to succumb to weather-related injuries or death.

“On the face of it, this is amazing,” Stokka said. “How can cattle tolerate 40-below temperatures? How do their extremities, legs, feet or their ears, not freeze?

“The answer is not completely explainable, but adequate body condition, meaning a little fat cover, is a good insulator, good hair coats, thick skin and an internal pot belly stove are what keep cattle going in temperatures that you and I, even in winter clothing, could not tolerate for very long.”

Most of the livestock deaths due to weather conditions occur in late winter and early spring during calving season, said Charles Stoltenow, NDSU professor of animal

sciences.

“These are related not so much to extreme cold, but hypothermia caused by cold and wet weather conditions,” he said. “Most often animals that die from extreme cold are the very young or the very old. They do not have the body reserves needed to combat and survive the cold. In winter, the extreme cold and wind can lead to death. In late winter and early spring, cold wet weather is the problem.”

Solemsaas said it has been several years since winter weather has created any real concern for producers in the state who raise livestock.

Solemsaas added that older animals tend to endure North Dakota’s blustery winter conditions better than their young, who are more likely to fall prey to such elements because they have not had time to adapt.

“The last time I remember a scenario like that was several years ago, and I think there may have ended up being a blizzard that caused major problems and turned into a two- or three-day event that led to livestock losses because it was in the middle of calving season,” he said. “Calves born in the middle of a snowstorm are exposed to conditions that they just can’t handle yet at that young of an age, so most of the deaths that occurred that year were calf deaths.”

There are a few measures that farmers and ranchers can take that could help them to mitigate the chances of their livestock death as animal producers prepare for start of winter, which officially begins this morning.

“Cows are fairly tough animals, and if they have enough water and are fed well, they do pretty well, even if it gets to be really cold,” Solemsaas said. “They will also need to have some type of protection to block them from the wind, like barns or a shelter of some sort, and then they will usually make it OK.”

Most of the time, though, Stoltenow said livestock that suffer from winter-related injuries do not exhibit signs that are immediately noticeable to producers.

“The first sign of cold related injuries are frozen ears and tails, and these are not visible until the tissue actually falls off which can be a week or two after the initial damage was done,” he said. “Prevention is the key when dealing with cold weather.”

The most effective means of preventing livestock winter deaths, Stoltenow said, is to protect the animals from wind and give them insulation from the ground.

“With a wind break and some bedding available for the animal to snuggle down in and insulate themselves from the cold ground, they can tolerate quite a bit of cold,” he said.

“Also, the animals should have additional feed the supplies more energy and protein. The colder the weather, the more the animal must generate heat and to generate heat the animal needs additional

calories.”

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