Arctic Blast Challenges Livestock Producers

Bitter cold means suffering for livestock; good news for Kansas is light, dry snow and quick return to warmer weather

Whoa! Yes, there still IS winter in Kansas as this week’s plunge into the deep freeze reminds us.

Wichita hit sub-zero on Sunday night and low single digits on Monday night, with howling north winds making for totally miserable wind chill readings in the minus 20 range. :Livestock, and the humans that care for it, suffer in cold like that.

To all my friends out there who are feeding cattle and milking cows and tending other livestock in the bitter cold, my hat is off to you. There’s not a farm chore much more miserable than chopping ice to open up a hole in a frozen pond or tank for cattle to drink.

My enterprising Missouri-based brother makes wood-burning tank heaters for days like these. He said he had electric-powered heaters for tanks near the barn but one of the consequences of winter storms, especially in farm country, is that power outages are often part of the problem. There is also the problem that often livestock pastures are long way from the nearest power source. So, he invented his own way to keep tanks thawed out. I had to smile, thinking of the generations of farmers who have simply figured out a way to invent what they needed.

Other ranchers have turned to solar-powered heaters for those remote pastures with pretty good success. The upside of that is you don’t even have to worry about checking to make sure there’s still a fire going. The downside: when the heavy clouds, roll in, your power supply goes down.

Fortunately for us, this cold snap is relatively brief. Already today, it’s above freezing – well above in western Kansas where Colby is 42 as I write -- and the forecast calls for a high of 50 degrees and sunny skies on Sunday. We are also lucky that in feedlot country, the snow was light and dry, making it easier for livestock to stand the cold. Weight gains will be slowed, but dry reduces the chance of disease or death from the cold.

I’m headed to Topeka this afternoon to be at the Kansas Soybean Expo and the Topeka Farm and Ranch Show bright and early tomorrow. Expect to hear more soon on what I learn. Stay warm.

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