Extremes in temperatures require special attention 

Agriculture producers face harsh temperatures and weather year-round. These conditions can create devastating impacts on livestock operations, leading to longer-lasting effects. 

Winter is a difficult time of year for all livestock producers. 

Missouri cattleman Ray E. Cunio has 200 head of commercial Angus. In previous years, Cunio has raised Santa Gertrudis cattle. After many attempts to breed the calves in central Missouri, he found the breed did not have much tolerance for the cold. The calves just would not winter well, leading him to transition strictly to Angus. 

Cunio experienced many losses during the winter, due to hypothermia. Recurrent illnesses, such as pneumonia or other respiratory-related issues, come with the cold weather as well. In extremely low temperatures, Cunio faced difficulty keeping water available in his ponds.

“Ensuring livestock receive ample energy, have feed sources available, and paying attention to water are essential to avoid winter stress,” said Dr. Jeremy Powell, a professor and veterinarian in the department of Animal Science at the University of Arkansas.

In difficult times, ranchers look to their local veterinarian to solve issues. Powell communicated the common impacts winter weather and extreme levels of heat may have on livestock. 

Having done most of his work and research within the Northwest Arkansas region, he listed the imperative troubles the University’s livestock face when it comes to extreme levels of heat. Powell expressed his concerns primarily with black cattle. 

“Certainly, coming from the summer, and having just experienced a drought – heat stress – comes to mind,” said Powell.

Heat stress produces many concerns for livestock owners. Cattle are more likely to be found standing in the shade or standing in ponds in times of high temperatures. Therefore, these behaviors result in a decrease in performance, decline in energy intake and less time spent grazing. Weight loss and reproductive issues also stem from these behaviors. 

“Unfortunately, once an animal is down, it is hard to save them. The odds are not good unless you catch the illness or issue beforehand,” said Cunio.

Preparation is key in avoiding troublesome climate impacts. This comes with good planning and recordkeeping. Administering vaccinations and medications, performing castrations and pregnancy checks, or seeking checkups from a local veterinarian are essential in ensuring a good start for your livestock. 

“Ensuring livestock receive ample energy, have feed sources available and paying attention to water are essential to avoid winter stress,” said Powell.

During winter months, continually making repetitive trips to ponds to ensure ice is broken is crucial. It is especially critical in extreme cold temperatures to break the ice at least twice a day, said Cunio.

It is vital to ensure adequate amount of hay in comparison to the head of cattle. Keeping records of not only the amount of hay baled for the year but making note of the good quality bales and the low-quality bales. Low-quality bales can be used as bedding for newborn calves, who are found to be more susceptible to low temperatures, to lay on and keep warm. 

During warm months, be sure all cattle have shade. Ensuring livestock have access to water at all times of day is essential as well. Powell recommends if plausible, installing misters for cattle in especially hot locations. 

In times of drastic events such as flooding or snow, have a place to move cattle. Powell stated, if plausible, to minimize cattle being near creeks or low areas where water can collect. When storing hay, create a reserve pile in case of dire need such as a blizzard or heavy snowfall. 

Powell recommended contacting local Cooperative Extension Services for recommendations or questions.


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