This month has been one of the coldest Decembers I can remember. We’ve been in a cold snap for a few weeks now, with temperatures ranging from sub-zero to single digits. The frigid cold makes ranching a little more challenging, but being prepared can help get through freezing weather conditions.
When it’s this cold outside, the cattle are the first to be impacted. They need to increase their feed intake to compensate for the extra energy being lost to keep warm. Watching for early calves is important, too, as a calf wouldn’t stand a chance if born outside in these conditions. A wind break to shield cattle from the wind’s icy bite is another must, whether it’s a shelter belt of trees or a manmade structure.
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Waterers are the next consideration. We use electric waterers and a tire tank that stems from an underground well. Both of these have a tendency to freeze up in cold conditions. But we check them often to ensure that animals have plenty of water to drink.
Machinery is the next challenge when the weather gets cold. Getting tractors to start and run smoothly can be difficult when the temperatures drop. We keep our tractors plugged in and we let them run for a bit before operating them, which can help a lot.
Of course, keeping yourself healthy when you’re outside in these conditions also is a challenge. Adequate sleep, warm fluids and frequent breaks can help when working in cold winter weather.
I recently ran across a news report in ABC Montana News that talked about how ranchers are preparing for frigid temperatures. Here is an excerpt from the report:
“With temperatures only expected to get colder, area ranchers are making sure their livestock and equipment are ready for the worst. Montana Extension Office Cattle Beef Specialist Rachel Endecott says food and water are the most important steps to keeping livestock healthy through the cold snap.
"We need to increase the feed by 1% for every 1° it is below 17 or 18°," says Endecott. She says that if the temp gets below 17 or 18°, cattle will start to use energy to maintain their body temperature. That’s why extra feed is needed.
In the spirit of being prepared, Salmon, ID, rancher Heather Smith Thomas offers these ideas in her BEEF December issue article, “Calving Checklist: Everything You Need To Know & Have Before Calving.”
These are just a few considerations to keep in mind when the weather gets nasty. How does a cold spell change the way you manage your cattle and equipment? Leave your thoughts and best advice in the comments section below.
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