Farmers prioritize livestock in freezing temperatures

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HOLLIDAY - While most mid-Missourians plan to stay indoors from Tuesday night through Wednesday, Ed Mitchell has to brave the freezing temperatures.

His priority: taking care of the cattle on his fourth-generation farm. He said preparations for the cold begin days before it arrives.

“We’ve spent the last few days changing our feed rations so the cows will have a lot of energy to keep them warm,” he said. 

Calves are especially susceptible to what one MU animal scientist refers to as “cold stress.” 

“Negative temperatures can have some large detriments to them - onsets of hypothermia if we don’t watch out for those animals,” said Dr. Derek Brake, who specializes in nutrient requirements for cattle.

Mitchell said he spends more time outside with his cattle in bad weather than he does in good weather to prevent them from getting sick.

“It’s painstaking,” he said. “It’s tough, but we have to take care of our livestock. If we don’t take care of them, they won’t take care of us.”

That includes feeding and providing water.

“Water is very much a necessity now,” Mitchell said. “With the energy they’re getting, they’re going to need the water to drink as well.”

But, when temperatures get as low as they will on Wednesday morning, water might not be available.

“The biggest challenge we have in freezing temperatures like this is that the water does exactly that - it freezes, which means that there is more effort or less access to the water that is naturally available to the cow,” Brake said.

To supplement the natural water, Mitchell set up an automatic water system in his winter pasture. However, only one cow can drink from it at a time.

Mitchell said he has closely monitored the inclement weather all winter and feels prepared for the brutally cold temperatures.

“We’re very dependent on the weather forecast,” Mitchell said. “That motivates us to start days ahead to where we’re ready when the weather gets here, so the cows are in good shape. They’re healthy, they’re well and they’re warm.”