Snowstorms and cattle | Living the Country Life

Snowstorms and cattle

Cattle are tough animals in winter conditions, unless those conditions become extreme

The fall of 2013 will be remembered in South Dakota for the freak October blizzard that killed thousands of cattle. They fell victim to hypothermia, suffocation, and other causes.
Larry Hawkins is a veterinarian with Bayer HealthCare. He says when cattle are in a blizzard, their instinct is to walk with the wind.

"They’re blinded by the snow, it’s blowing around and swirling around them. They come to a ravine, or even really a small ditch along a road someplace, and they tumble down and fall in the snow that’s there, and the one behind them’s on top of them," says Hawkins. "And that’s really what happens. It’s just the routine of how they walk."

When bad weather is expected, producers should give their cattle extra feed and provide a windbreak. It may be as simple as a grove of trees. You can even park some vehicles to offer protection and to stop the cattle from moving with the wind.

Unfortunately, Hawkins says cattle can also suffocate when the snow is howling around them.

"Especially when they get together huddled in a group. One of them puts its head down and others move close to it, they can’t raise their head back up. And so the snow blows in around their legs and that animal can suffocate in those conditions," says Hawkins. "It’s rather tragic, but it’s something that happens."

When a storm is approaching, plan to move the animals to a protective area as soon as you can. Livestock resist being moved from an area with limited protection and also resist being moved into the face of a storm. Young cattle are especially at risk because they have less physical strength and tolerance for extreme cold. Move the young ones first, and the older livestock will follow by instinct.

Learn more about winter livestock management

Winter weather isn't the only hazard to livestock, learn how you can protect them from weather extremes year-round

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