Cattle in the vast U.S. High Plains region were stressed by this week's severe blizzard, leading to big weight losses and boosting Chicago Mercantile Exchange (CME) live cattle futures prices, feeders and livestock experts said on Wednesday.
The storm dumped up to 20 inches of wet snow in some areas, accompanied by winds approaching 80 miles per hour.
"The cattle we weighed yesterday were 70 to 100 pounds lighter than they would have been before the storm. There is no question there will be a tremendous amount of tonnage lost over the next month," said Johnny Trotter, president of Bar-G Feedyard in Hereford, Texas.
Hereford is about 40 miles south of Amarillo, Texas, in the heart of the Texas Panhandle. It is the largest cattle feeding and beef processing region in the United States and the area hit hardest by the blizzard, referred to as Rocky by some media.
"We're just now getting reports in, they've been busy feeding but so far we're hearing about a 20 to 40 pound loss on average, depending on the extent of the storm," said Jim Brett Campbell, spokesman for the Texas Cattle Feeders Association.
"We'll have a better idea at the end of the week, when the showlists come in."
The storm was extremely harsh at its zenith on Monday, bearing cold and wet snow, but it was short-lived, both a curse and a blessing to feedlot owners and operators in the Plains States.
"It could have been a lot worse but cattle really suffered," Trotter said. "There was blowing snow for 18 hours and 4- to 6-foot drifts, this is as tough as I've ever seen."
Bar-G Feedyards has a cattle feedlot capacity of 125,000 head, Trotter said about average size for the Plains feedlot population.
"Feedlot cattle are all outdoors, they can take a cold and dry snow but this snow was cold and wet. They burn more energy to stay warm rather than put on weight," said Ron Plain, professor of agricultural economics at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri.
"They don't feel like moving around or feel like eating, they're just more uncomfortable in a wet snow rather than a dry snow," he said.
Muleshoe, Texas, was on the south edge of the blizzard and Shuck Donnell, general manager of Coyote Lake Feedyard Inc, said his feedlot was not hit as hard but cattle still lost weight.
"We weighed a few yesterday and they were about 30 pounds light," Donnell said.
"We had about 4 to 5 inches of snow and the wind blew like crazy but north of here around Hereford it was a lot worse. We had no death losses and we were able to feed," he said.