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Cattle breeder shares pro-tip for saving ears when calving in sub-zero temps

Chris Styles of Styles Angus, a purebred breeder from Brentford, South Dakota, feels lucky he avoided heavy snow this winter, but had to counter bitter cold. One countermove: a duct tape tip to protect newborn calves from frost-bitten ears when their mothers lick them in sub-zero temperatures.

A cattleman stands on a sunny, late winter evening in a cap amid his black Angus cows and their newborn calves.
Chris Styles whose family has been in the purebred Angus business for nearly five decades, is tickled about how a Facebook video taught him a new duct-tape trick to save calf ears from this year’s bitter cold. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

BRENTFORD, S.D. — Chris Styles of Styles Angus has been calving all his life.

But even a veteran South Dakota cattleman, at age 46, can pick up a pro tip for saving calf ears from freeze damage.

It’s about duct tape.

That’s right, duct tape. He learned about it in a Facebook video.

First, a bit of background: Styles Angus is a purebred operation going on five decades, today caring for 165 cows. They breed the mature mommas with artificial insemination. Many of those calves come between Jan. 15 and March 1. They have 30 late calvers that are a little younger left to go.

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A baby black Angus calf looks at a visitor, flanked by a feed bunk and a herd of black cows with calves at their sides.
Mature cows are were mostly calved by March 1 at Styles Angus of Brentford, South Dakota. This year, Chris Styles stumbled on a trick for protecting calf ears from frostbite in the multiple sub-zero days. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

They calve early to allow their bulls to be more mature at their annual production sale on the first Monday in March (March 7 this year). The more mature young bulls can handle more cows per bull.

A beef producer walks in a cozy "hoop barn" where mother cows and newborns transition before heading out to join the ret of the herd after calving.
Chris Styles of Brentford, South Dakota, his family and hired man Austin Morgan care for 165 cows. Styles Angus has been fortunate to get through 2022 calving with few losses, despite brutal cold. The Styleses have good facilities, including this new hoop barn, equipped with monitoring cameras. Mature cows mostly calved from Jan. 15 to March 1. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

The Styles family has good calving facilities, including cameras, and a new hoop barn, tagging newborn calves is difficult. But nothing is perfect.

When newborn calves dry off, the Styles crew puts the ear tags, but the mother start to lick on them the tags. That makes the ears wet and that causes damage in multiple sub-zero days.

The answer?

You might call it “Duct tape II.”

The Styles had tried to counter the freeze-burned ear problem by temporarily wrapping a leg with a strip of duct tape, simply writing vital information with a marker until things warmed up. But it was still a problem because the mother cow would lick the numbers off.

This year Chris saw a Facebook video that they saw the video where the producer made the permanent tag and simply duct-taped that to the leg.

Simple.

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“When it finally warmed up and we could kick them out, we could go grab them, cut the tape off and — there’s the ear tag!

“It worked out great for us. Maybe it’s not for everybody, but it worked out great for us,” he said.

A hoop barn stands behind the corral where mother black Angus cows stand with their recently born calves.
Styles Angus, based at Brentford, South Dakota, calves early, from Jan. 1 to March 1, with good facilities to keep purebred stock sub-zero cold. Many of their commercial customers are just getting starting calving in mid-March. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

It’s just one of the details — big and small — the Styles family has tended to for decades.

Purebred history

The family’s purebred history started with Chris’ grandfather, Lowell, and his father, Bob, who is still active. Their 44th production sale this year’s event went remarkably well, Styles said, buoyed in part by strong commodity prices.

A cattle trailer is emblazoned with the red-and-black Styles Angus logo, and slogan, "Foundation to Build From."
Styles Angus, based at Brentford, South Dakota, plans for purebred calves to be born early every year, from Jan. 1 to March 1, an ability helped by good facilities. Many of their “commercial” cattle customers are just getting starting calving in mid-March. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates / Agweek

Chris, 46, his wife, Erica, today run it with hired man Austin Morgan at their side, and big support from two daughters. They raise corn and beans and put in some alfalfa for the cattle.

Daughter Madison is a year from a doctorate in pharmacy at South Dakota State University, and she owns some cows in the operation. Daughter Sawyer expects to graduate high school and go on to SDSU in ag business, marketing and computer work. The family shows cattle together every year.

Young black Angus bulls, sold for thousands of dollars in a March 7, 2022, production sale, are cared for in a corral until they're delivered to customers later this spring.
Bull and heifer prices were exceptionally strong on March 7, 2022, for the 44th Styles Angus production sale at Brentford, S.D. Chris Styles said high-priced corn and soybean prices are part of the reason. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, S.D.
Mikkel Pates

In a particularly brutally cold winter, Styles feels fortunate in many things, but one is a dearth of snow. Styles Angus had a few storms that produced small amounts of snow. With high winds it made for some high drifts, but overall dept was minimal.

Styles Angus lost only three calves this year, two cows that sloughed off calves early, one was lost in a breech birth. Things happen during calving.

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“We haven’t been buried in snow here," Styles said. The yard was largely snow-free on March 14, 2022. “I think that’s made our lives easier. That’s a huge factor for us, having better (weather) luck.”

Black mother cows and their calves stand in a corral, flanked by trees and brown fields, in a winter that has brought cold but not much snow.
Styles Angus of Brentford, South Dakota, as completed its 2022 calving season with little difficulty due to a general lack of snow. Photo taken March 14, 2022, in rural Brentford, South Dakota.
Mikkel Pates Agweek

“Our place here is really geared toward the commercial guys,” he said. Most of the Styles customers are only getting into calving now. Some are moving calving later in the season because they don’t like fighting the weather.

“We had good moisture last fall and we really hope that we can have a shot this spring to get the grass started, Style said. They have put up the least amount of hay that they have in many years, but better than others.

Some commercial cattle producers he sells to farther west have been having a “tough go” with drought and are spending any extra money they have for buying hay.

“Let’s hope they can get some moisture in the future here, and have a better year," he said.

Beyond short-term weather, would like to see Congress needs reinstating Country Of Origin Labeling.

“Keeping the packers honest so the feeders and the cow-calf guys can make a little extra money,” he said.

And long-term, he'd like Styles Angus thrive into the future — maybe get to 50 years of production sales.

“And hopefully 60 or 70,” he said.

Related Topics: SOUTH DAKOTACATTLEDROUGHT
Mikkel Pates is an agricultural journalist, creating print, online and television stories for Agweek magazine and Agweek TV.
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