Livestock Exposed in Spring Snowstorm

Potential Spring Snowstorm Puts Livestock at Risk From Colorado to Great Lakes

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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Heavy snow and strong winds could be seen April 12-14 from Colorado to the Great Lakes, posing a hazard to cattle and calves. (DTN file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- Widespread storms could bring heavy snow, heavy rain, severe weather, strong winds and dropping temperatures across the country early next week. The forecast includes a severe snowstorm that could bring heavy snow and strong winds from the Rocky Mountains into the Great Lakes region.

Livestock producers in areas that may face extremely low temperatures, high winds and heavy snow will need to plan and implement cold weather management practices to protect their animals, especially those with young calves.

These procedures range from moving livestock to shelter, to altering feed requirements, to protecting their calves and bulls.


DTN Ag Meteorologist John Baranick said parts of the northern United States will see a severe winter storm, while southern U.S. areas will see a severe weather event. Heavy snow, winds and low temperatures are expected in the April 12-14 time frame.

Heavy snow hasn't affected widespread areas with recent storms. But DTN forecasters are anticipating a widespread heavy snowfall event with the storm next week, Baranick said.

"Overall, this coming week is going to be a doozie," Baranick said.

The exact track of the snowstorm still isn't known but appears to be headed from Colorado to Lake Superior.


Baranick said all the ingredients are coming together for a significant winter storm next week.

Cold air on the north side of the track will create the snow, and the ample moisture the system will pull in from the Gulf of Mexico will produce widespread, heavy precipitation, he said. This will lead to a wide swatch of moderate to heavy snow from the Rockies into the Upper Midwest and south-central Canada.

As of early Friday afternoon, the most likely areas forecast to see heavy precipitation are from Wyoming through the Dakotas and into northern Minnesota, southern Manitoba and western Ontario. Based on the track and development of the system, southeast Montana, northeast Colorado, and western Nebraska may also see the heavy snow, Baranick said.

"It is a little irresponsible to talk about amounts for any specific areas, but all of the ingredients point toward large areas seeing over 12 inches. Strong winds that develop with the snow are likely to lead to blizzard conditions where the heavy snow occurs," he warned.

Large areas could see gusts eclipsing 60 miles per hour. Feedlots in the Southern Plains may miss the snow, but still have high winds that could potentially damage equipment and buildings. The winds will also dry out soils and pastures and increase wildfire risk.


Baranick said ahead of the storm system from the Southern Plains to the East Coast, the ridge of high pressure should allow temperatures to soar well-above normal.

However, in the West, temperatures will fall 10 to 20 degrees below normal. The cold will spread eastward behind the system next week, and the temperature change will be dramatic.

"Across the north, where the heavy snow is expected to occur, the drop will be the most pronounced, slowing the melting of the snow for the following several days. Those low temperatures spreading eastward could lead to some late frosty conditions for wheat in the Plains and Midwest," he said. (To see more from Baranick about the storm, go to….)

As many cattle producers are in the midst of calving time, they will keep a close eye on the thermometer, along with the wind impact.

As DTN has reported in the past, the likelihood of hypothermia in a newborn calf is going to be much higher under wet, windy conditions. (See tips on caring for and warming up calves in cold, wet, windy conditions at….) If a calf is born in unfavorable environmental conditions, be prepared to spend several hours to intervene, according to the article.

To learn more about how lower temperatures can affect calves, see…; for tips on feeding calves with their changing needs at different ages and under challenging weather conditions, see…. As for managing unweaned dairy calves in cold weather, South Dakota State University Extension provides tips at….

Colorado State University (CSU) Extension has an extensive list of severe cold weather considerations for livestock owners at….


The CSU report suggests moving livestock before or at the onset of extreme winter weather. For short durations, landscape topographic features such as ravines, canyons, draws and natural windbreaks may be sufficient protection from the elements.

Low temperatures without wind are usually not enough to affect the performance of animals, although heifers close to calving should be checked on more frequently. Wind alone can cause the same effect on animals as exposure to a sudden drop in temperature. A 20-mile-per-hour (mph) wind is roughly equivalent to a 30-degree drop in temperature.

Livestock producers should use shelter, sheds or windbreaks during low temperatures.

Windbreaks that are taller and denser (have less openings) are more effective than other types of windbreaks. Windbreaks can be manmade or natural, generally trees.

Cattle in cold weather should have abundant and accessible feed, which will help them maintain body temperature; in severe cold weather, they will require extra feed to help maintain body condition.


Managing bulls can be critical in winter, considering they contribute half the genetics to a cowherd. DTN wrote about this in the past at….

Bulls generally lose anywhere from 100 to 400 lbs. during the breeding season, or about 10% to 15% of their body weight, research has shown. They need to regain the weight before the next breeding season, and for most producers, the time to put some weight back on bulls would be during the winter months.

Cold weather can have negative effects on bull fertility. Cold weather and wind chill can result in bull infertility with tissue damage to the scrotum.

Frostbite lowers semen quality in bulls, according to studies. The soundness score of semen quality of bulls with frostbite can drop significantly.

Producers should use breeding soundness exams with their bulls. There are four components of the exam: a general physical exam, a scrotal circumference measurement, sperm motility and sperm morphology.

This breeding soundness exam should be done four to six weeks prior to the breeding season.

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Russ Quinn