This lovely arctic blast we received last week was less than pleasant, especially after the balmy November we had. It was kind of like that game we played as kids where we’d sit in the hot tub until we couldn’t stand it, then jump into the cold pool water. I’m not saying we were real bright as kids, but hey, at least it was entertainment.
So of course when your teeth are chattering and frost is forming on your eyelashes, the first thing you think is, “how are the cattle doing?”. Okay, so maybe some of you don’t think like a rancher does, but in case you’re wondering, now I can fill you in.
The cattle in South Dakota are handling all this quite well, much better than the people are. Actually, cattle have a preference for cold weather over heat. From all the research done by animal scientists over the years, we have found cattle consistently do better in the arctic cold than then do in the tropical warmth.
The reason for this has to due with a number of things. By this time of year, cattle have grown out their long winter coats. This, coupled with adding a layer of fat, gives them superior insulation capabilities. In fact, as long as cattle stay dry, freezing weather is quite comfortable for them. With this winter protection, temperatures in the mid-60s F can be too warm and cause them to suffer heat stress.
This doesn’t mean that they don’t have some responses to the cold that are different from what they do in fairer weather. Obviously getting out of the wind is helpful. In addition, their nutritional needs increase. This is because they will burn more energy to stay warm, particularly by fermentation in their rumen (the biggest of their four stomachs). Rumen digestion generates a lot of heat, so that process works well with cold conditions.
So now when you pass a herd of cows on a cold day driving to the nearest location that sells space heaters, you can feel comfortable knowing those cows can handle the winter chill much better than you. So wave to them and get yourself a cappuccino, because it’s colder than a tin toliet top out there.