Cold difficult on cattle, farmers

PARKERSBURG – Bitterly cold temperatures and high winds are forcing area cattle farmers to take extra precautions.

Much like people, cattle and calves are subject to cold weather and wind chill factors that can drop temperatures into negative numbers. This winter has been one of the coldest in recent history with several record-tying or -breaking days.

Levi Morrow, agricultural and natural resources program coordinator for Ohio State University Extension in Washington County, said area cattle producers are facing increasing costs due to this winter’s cold temperatures and are having to take extra precautions to keep their herds safe and healthy.

“The cold weather is very harsh on cattle,” he said. “It’s important for producers to make sure they can get the cattle in out of the wind and help them stay a little warmer.”

That doesn’t mean the cattle have to be placed inside of a structure, Morrow said. Often relocating feeding areas for cattle, such as on a hillside or along a treeline, can help them avoid the wind.

Cattle also eat more during cold days, and Morrow said farmers might have to pay more for different kinds of feed.

“As the cows get colder it takes more energy for them to be warm, so you need more feed,” he said. “The quality of feed also can be an issue. It’s important for farmers to put some supplemental feeds out, and that can be more expensive.”

J.J. Barrett, WVU Agriculture Extension Agent for Wood County, said cold weather can increase the feed intake of livestock up to 30 percent due to the increased maintenance energy requirements.

“Livestock will need more feed to combat cold stress during this harsh weather.” Barrett said. “Access to water, shelter from the wind and extra bedding will help until a warm-up occurs.

“As a general rule, healthy animals in good body condition that are acclimated to cold weather and have a good winter hair coat will do fine until the ambient temperature drops below 20 degrees Fahrenheit,” he said. “Below that, animals must compensate for heat loss by increasing their energy intake, to increase heat production and maintain their body temperature.”

Cattle aren’t the only animals subject to these issues. The cold can especially effect young calves, lambs and goats, Barrett said. Cold and wet conditions can make the animals more susceptible to disease, respiratory and digestive pathogens, as well as suffering from cold-weather effects like hypothermia and frostbite.

Both Barrett and Morrow said making sure animals have access to water is imperative to keeping them healthy. Chill temperatures mean sources of water can quickly freeze over, and irrigation pipes can freeze as well. If animals lack water they will eat less, which lowers the amount of energy they have to keep themselves warm and healthy.

“A lot of producers will keep heaters in their tanks to keep them from freezing up,” Morrow said. “For others, it’s just a matter of keeping an eye on things and breaking through the ice if a water source freezes.”

While caring for their cattle, Morrow said farmers too must take some precautions.

“They don’t get snow days,” he said. “They work no matter what the weather is like. If you’re out there in the fields or in an unheated tractor, you need to bundle up and make sure you stay warm.”

According to a 2011 Ohio Department of Agriculture survey, Washington County farmers annually produce about 18,500 head of cattle and calves valued at more than $6.3 million. The county ranked 24th out of 88 Ohio counties in terms of cattle production, Morrow said.

Barrett said Wood County produces about 7,200 head of cattle. West Virginia annually produces about 410,000 head of cattle valued at about $165 million.