Blizzards challenge even the most experienced cattlemen
By Jim Krantz
South Dakota State University Extension
Cow-calf producers relentlessly study available research that focuses on production data targeting increased efficiencies and performance in their operations. However, adverse weather conditions in the form of blizzards or cold spring rains are much more difficult to find solutions for as each event may offer variations of moisture amounts, temperatures, wind speeds or duration.
Even cattlemen who have experienced calving-time conditions with these elements involved, may benefit from a review of preparation recommendations as calving season progresses or, in many cases, begins.
Weather experts can be your best resource. Advanced radar and tracking abilities of the National Weather Service provide early and accurate warnings that include timing, expected duration and severity of these events.
Depending on the severity, windbreaks and bedding that provide a dry environment may be sufficient in some blizzard situations. Bedding not only provides protection and warmth from a frozen ground surface but encourages cows to remain in the protected area during calving.
Sorting "close-up" cows and heifers with access to calving barns or heated calving pens when extreme blizzard conditions are expected may be necessary. This process is made easier when synchronization programs were used, artificial insemination dates are known or pregnancy testing dates are available.
Calving huts may be beneficial, especially for those calves that are a few days old. Unfortunately, they fail to offer much benefit to newborn calves as they are reluctant to leave mama early in their lives.
Inventorying equipment and supplies can be beneficial. Maintaining a supply of colostrum replacement and having access to an esophageal feeding tube are a must in treating chilled or weak calves. A "dry-run" of the calf warming box and heater is time well spent. Warming blankets or ear protectors are also inventory items to consider.
Phone numbers for your veterinarian or an alternate may be valuable additions to your contacts within your cell phone, posted on the barn door or "filed" on the dash of your pickup with all the other accumulated essentials.
Lastly, during these times of livestock stress, it is vital to remember the personal dangers that producers encounter as well. Weather conditions that are potentially harmful to livestock can be equally dangerous for those who care for them.
Cattlemen's preparations begin long before calving-time blizzards become reality. Cow nutrition programs that provide recommended levels of protein and energy result in high quality and desired quantity of colostrum for the newborn calf. It also creates a higher thermal body temperature for the calf at birth resulting in a greater ability for the calf to survive under stressful conditions such as blizzards.
Some say the best way to prepare for a blizzard is to calve in May. Ideally, that may be true but, realistically, it is not an option for many cattlemen, especially seed stock producers. Common sense and experience provide the framework as cattlemen prepare for all calving seasons and the challenges involved with them such as blizzards. Hard work, long hours, and attention to detail define the essentials necessary to make that season successful.