Wet, cold spring conditions create calving issues

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Blizzard conditions in some parts of South Dakota on Monday created challenges for those cattle producers in the midst of calving, said Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension Cow/Calf Field Specialist.

"In wet, cold, windy conditions like this, it doesn't take much to lose a newborn calf," Rusche said.

Rusche said the cold, wet conditions brought on with the March 31 storm can diminish mature cows' reserves and suck the life out of their newborn offspring.

"Cold stress with cattle is often associated with below zero temperatures, especially in South Dakota. However, if conditions are dry, cattle who have adapted to the cold conditions found in Northern Plains' winters can function and perform well under a wide range of conditions. That adaptation goes out the window when wet conditions are introduced," Rusche said. "It is as if you soaked a down-filled coat in water and expected it to keep you warm. If a cow is soaked it quickly drops her critical temperature."

As far as her newborn calf is concerned, Rusche says it all depends on the cattle producer's access to dry cover.

"Every cattle producer who is calving right now has been out in this storm trying to find, and provide shelter to every calf born. They are facing the reality that if they don't get their calves to shelter, the calves may die," Rusche said. "The risk of death loss from hypothermia is very real in these cold, wet and windy conditions. Even mild cases of hypothermia can lead to problems with colostrum intake and absorption."

While there is little that can be done to change adverse weather conditions, Rusche says there are steps that producers can take to deal with spring storms and minimize negative impacts. Some of those steps include:

  • Provide for as much shelter as practical, whether natural or man-made. Shelterbelts, wooded draws and windbreaks can be invaluable forms of shelter.
  • Bedding will help minimize heat losses from the body, especially for calves. Newborn calves spend about 80% of the time laying down, so providing a dry surface out of the wind will help the calf keep dry and preserve body heat.
  • Be prepared to warm newborn calves in the case of hypothermia. Immersing calves in warm water, physically drying them off with towels, or placing them under heat lamps are all methods that have been used successfully.


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