Two weeks ago, right before that arctic blast we received, I talked about how cattle actually handle cold weather pretty well. One caveat that I mentioned in that is cattle handle cold, DRY weather very well.
Well, this last weather system is not nearly as good. Here in southern South Dakota we received 1″ of rain on Christmas day in 37 F weather. Then the temperatures dropped overnight and today the high is below freezing. This weather is pretty much the absolute worst kind of weather cattle can experience.
You see, cattle’s hair is fantastic at insulating them when it is dry. But wet hair loses quite a bit of insulating capabilities. So you get cold, wet weather that is followed by freezing temperatures, it is very hard on cattle.
So what do farmers and ranchers do besides panic? Well, you have a small group of cattle, you can find a shed for them to get out of the rain. But this is only a good idea if you have ample shed room per animal, as too many animals packed inside a building with poor ventilation is worse than getting wet.
The next option is to provide shelter from the wind. We all know how bad wind chills can be, so having a windbreak to take that out of the equation helps greatly. Another option is to put out bedding. Bedding, such as chopped corn stalks or straw, has insulating properties.
Once the cattle dry off, they go back to being able to handle the cold weather quite well again. This is why in many of the arid areas of the country, such as the western Dakotas, cattle handle being out on the range well, just like the bison and the mule deer do. So we patch them over to handle the rough weather, which doesn’t last very long here. Then when they dry off, they can go back to happily frolicking in the (frozen) pasture.