Ag Weather Forum

Cattle, Hog Producers Brace for Snow, Sub-Zero Temperatures

Russ Quinn
By  Russ Quinn , DTN Staff Reporter
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The single most useful tool to improve cattle comfort during extreme cold weather is bedding, according to South Dakota State Extension Beef Feedlot Management Associate Warren Rusche. (DTN/The Progressive Farmer file photo)

OMAHA (DTN) -- A winter storm is set to push across much of the central Corn Belt this weekend, bringing with it several inches of snow and sub-zero temperatures. While the storm could create hazardous conditions for travelers, it also poses risks for livestock throughout the region.

Livestock producers will likely have their hands full this weekend, working to protect their animals' health but also to ensure the performance of their animals doesn't suffer because of the weather.

SHORT-LIVED LOW TEMPS

DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist Mike Palmerino said some areas of the central Midwest will see moderate to heavy snowfall beginning on Friday and continuing through the weekend, with some areas seeing up to 6 to 10 inches. Temperatures will drop into the sub-zero-Fahrenheit level for the lows, he said.

"This could have an effect on some activities, such as hog transportation," Palmerino said.

Farther north into the Dakotas, the effects of the storm will be lesser with snowfall of maybe 1 to 3 inches over the weekend, Palmerino said. The Southern Plains should also see little effects of the storm, with temperatures remaining near normal.

Palmerino said the good news is the low temperatures are not expected to linger in the region for long. Forecasts call for temperatures in the region to be back in 20s by next week, he said.

However, the six- to 10-day forecast does show potential for a longer period of persistent lower temperatures. This could be the coldest air of the winter so far, he said.

MORE BEDDING, FEED

With the winter snowstorm approaching, livestock producers are preparing.

Thursday morning, before the storm, Mike Berdo, a farmer/cattleman from Washington, Iowa, told DTN he was busy getting feed to his cows that he's been running on cornstalks. His cattle are fed a silage/rye mixture, along with hay free choice.

"We will keep a close eye on them during the storm just to make sure they are OK," Berdo said. "They have low spots to get out of the wind."

In addition to cows on stalks, Berdo also feeds out cattle. He will offer his feedlot cattle a little more bedding to keep them warm and dry. He will also open additional space in the cattle shed so more cattle can get out of harsh weather conditions.

He said he tries not to adjust rations much in cold weather, as fat cattle do not react well to changes to their diet.

In a Jan. 9 article titled "Managing Cattle Through Winter Weather Conditions," South Dakota State Extension Beef Feedlot Management Associate Warren Rusche wrote that the single most useful tool to improve cattle comfort during extreme cold weather is bedding. Bedding helps preserve body heat and mitigates the negative effects of cold stress on maintenance energy requirements.

"Feeders should consider bedding sooner than later when extreme cold weather is expected," Rusche wrote. "Waiting until cattle are exhausted before providing bedding results in calves simply resting up on the bed pack instead of maintaining dietary intake."

Another important aspect during extreme weather is keeping feed intake consistent; this avoids poorer conversion and, in extreme cases, acidosis (a build-up of acid).

Adding additional roughage to a finishing diet could reduce the impacts of any inconsistencies in feed consumption, Rusche wrote.

Berdo said the good news with this storm is the ground is already frozen, so cattlemen in his area of southeastern Iowa will not have to contend with muddy conditions. Warm weather two weeks ago caused the ground to thaw, and it was really muddy, he said.

"That was some of the worst mud I have ever seen," he said.

With the amount of moisture the Corn Belt saw this fall and early winter, Berdo said he is a bit concerned about what conditions will be like when his cows began to calve in late March. These concerns could also linger into the spring and delay fieldwork, which was already delayed in many locations after harvest last fall.

MINIMAL EFFECTS ON HOGS

Extreme winter weather should have only a slight impact on hog production in the path of this weekend's storm, since most hogs are housed indoors.

Jamin Ringger, a hog producer from Gridley, Illinois, said the effects of a winter storm on his hog operation are usually minimal. That being said, he does try to plan a bit more before a winter storm hits.

While rations will stay the same and the hogs are warm inside, he will try to keep feed bins full, just in case.

"We can usually get snow cleared to get feed moving again within a day after a snowstorm, so we have never really had issues here," Ringger said.

Jason Scott, a farmer from Burrows, Indiana, who raises show pigs, said he tries to cover the basics before the snow starts to fly.

He tries to make sure he has enough feed and bedding, that the propane (LP) tank is full and that the waterers are not frozen. He will also try to keep his barns closed tight to minimize drafts of cold air, he said.

"Oh, and (I) make sure my generator starts, just in case the power goes out for a while," Scott said.

Russ Quinn can be reached at russ.quinn@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @RussQuinnDTN

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