Winter in the Northern Great Plains is inevitable. It will be cold and it will snow. The question is how much and for how long. A 2-3 day blizzard started on December 5, 2016 followed by subzero temperatures the following week. Another blizzard hit on December 26, 2016. Snow falls are hard to measure with 30-60 mile per hour winds.
While humans are able to cope with this winter’s pattern of relatively warm temperatures followed by extremely cold temperatures in the northern Plains, cattle are not so lucky according to North Dakota State University Extension Service beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen.
With temperatures this winter easily reaching below minus 30 at some point, livestock producers need to make some adjustments to their management schemes to protect their cattle.
“To deal with the increased energy demands, we can simply increase the amount of feed delivered to the herd,” Dahlen says. “However, if cows are being maintained on relatively poor-quality feeds or temperatures get too extreme, altering the amount of feed will not meet the increased requirements for the cattle. Feeds of higher nutrient quality (more energy dense) must be included to achieve the needed level of nutrition during cold spells.”
Another strategy for dealing with the cold weather is to feed cattle at night. The heat from digestion peaks a few hours after a meal, so offering meals in the evening can help cattle cope with the cold nighttime temperatures.
Keeping cattle protected from the elements also is important. Cattle usually can deal with cold alone, but the combination of cold, wind and moisture can be deadly.
“Take steps to ensure cattle are out of the wind,” Dahlen advises. “If natural windbreaks (trees, draws, etc.) are available, take advantage of them for choosing wintering sites. If no natural windbreaks exist, producers will need to take steps to make permanent or portable windbreaks to protect cattle from the wind. Portable panels are good options for producers maintaining cattle in relatively open country.”
Once the wind is blocked, producers need to take active steps to combat moisture. A bit of snow on the backs of cattle usually is OK, but if precipitation has the animals wet all the way to the skin, the critical temperature in most cattle is lower.
And in cases where cattle are wet, bedding is a must,” Dahlen says. “The purpose of bedding is to help keep cattle dry.”
Placing cattle in barns may help but keep in mind the hot, humid air quality in a barn may lead to pneumonia which can be far worse for animal health than standing outside in a blizzard.
Although most healthy cattle can handle these uncomfortable storms sometimes they can’t survive. The old, weak, and young are particularly susceptible to stress in bad weather. Death losses due to weather related disasters can have a huge financial impact on cattle producers.
The Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) was authorized by the 2014 Farm Bill ‘to provide benefits to livestock producers for death losses in excess of normal mortality caused by eligible adverse weather, eligible disease and eligible attacks’.
LIP payments are based on 75% of market value as determined by the Secretary of Agriculture for the year of the loss.
For cattle, a Notice of Loss (form CCC-852) must be filed with the local Farm Service Agency (FSA) office within 30 days of when the loss was apparent. The Application for Payment must be filed within 90 days after the end of the calendar year in which the eligible loss condition occurred.
Losses that are payable are only in excess of Normal Mortality. Since you don’t know when disaster may strike, it is prudent to take a picture of all dead livestock as proof of loss. This includes all cattle that die throughout the year regardless of the reason.
Normal Mortality is different for various groups of cattle. For North Dakota, normal mortality is:
||Normal ND Mortality (%)
For more information about the Livestock Indemnity program, go to the 2016 fact sheet https://www.fsa.usda.gov/Assets/USDA-FSA-Public/usdafiles/FactSheets/2016/lip_fact_sheet_2016.pdf
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