"Get tough or go home..." is a deliberation many ranchers have muttered aloud this calving season.  Despite weather forecasts offering the cold hard facts – that it's not going to warm up for awhile and even more snow is on the horizon – agriculturists try their best to plow on the side of optimism and continue to push on.

Each morning seems to bring more snow removal and each evening offers the opportunity for record-breaking low temperatures.  Unfortunately, the National Weather service announced at press time there are no signs to the end of this active weather pattern across the Dakota Plains. 

The next storm system set to affect the area arrives Wednesday night into Thursday.  An estimated two to six inches of snow could accumulate.  This storm appears to hover over central South Dakota and move southwest, however,  wind does not appear to be an issue with this system.  Strength is increasing however, in regards to a much more powerful blizzard this weekend, with potential for heavy snow and strong winds. Early predictions are six to twelve inches, although exact locations are not pinpointed in weather reports.  Strong winds are associated as well. This significantly impacts weekend travel and as always, local law enforcement asks for drivers to pay close attention to road reports. 

This weather will leave a mark in history books on not just one of the coldest winters and calving/lambing seasons, but also for the tremendous amount of snowfall accumulated.  Surviving the elements and simply getting to livestock is mentally exhaustive as well as expensive. How do producers and their livestock cope with this polar vortex? Proper animal nutrition and care is key. 

“Many types of livestock can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees and do well, but once it starts dipping below 20 degrees they are out of their comfort zone,” said Beth Doran, beef specialist with Iowa State University.

A top strategy for combating the elements is a well-balanced feed ration with the right amount of protein and fiber.  This provides livestock with more energy as temperatures drop.  Water is also essential and as many know, nearly impossible to keep open when temperatures are as frigid as 2019’s.  Chopping ice holes in dams or water tanks daily is one method to allow livestock access to enough water.  Others have implemented propane or electric heat elements in water tanks, but even these must be checked often in case of mechanical failure.

Cattle in particular are ruminants and generate a lot of heat internally, however providing them with a good bedding pack also allows them to stay dry, ensuring their comfort. Bedding is most effective when placed on the inside border of a wind barrier.  These can be manmade or shelter belts of trees.

While winter feeding is often a time for mother cows to pack on a few pounds before giving birth and raising a calf, this winter in particular has not been conducive to weight gain for cattle. 

“In  terms of  wind chills  we are seeing -46 to -50 degrees; meaning they’re going to have to eat about 75 percent more energy than what they typically eat.” said Doran.

This means that feed adds up to one to two percent more in cost as well.  Factor in the extra fuel used this winter to keep up with the never-ending snow removal, this year’s calf crop will have a lot of pressure to bring a premium, let alone survive these life-threatening temperatures when born.

“I’m proud of our producers, they’re skilled at what they are doing, and they do it in a way that’s humane for the animal and for the environment.” said Doran, praising Midwestern livestock producers for their relentless pursuit in fostering an occupation that feeds the world.

Will spring weather shine on us after this week?  It does not appear so- with yet another winter storm already predicted for midweek next week.