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Ranchers Work to Keep Calves Alive

Mud and melting snow creates a wet environment that can cause calf health problems.

Heavy spring snowstorms have created hardships for North Dakota cattle herds and caretakers. Most ranchers have moved away from cow herds calving during the winter to avoid the cold and snow. However, this year’s late-winter weather has ranchers working day and night to keep newborn calves alive.

Calves move more slowly and will take longer to first nursing when suffering from cold weather stress. It also leads to reduced nursing times and increased sickness. Acute cold weather stress brought on by cold, wet snow and wind can lead to a quick death for a newborn calf. Most ranchers have barns available to protect their cows during calving. However, the extended cold and snow has led to a shortage of barn space.

“Mud and melting snow creates a wet environment that can cause calf health problems” says Karl Hoppe, North Dakota State University Extension Service area livestock specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center. “Pneumonia and scours can lead to death or poor performance, so warm, dry ground helps tremendously in maintaining healthy calves.”

Using liberal amounts of bedding, such as straw, stover or hay, can help keep calves stay warm and dry. However, bedding can be expensive or not an available option because of last year’s drought.

“There is a reason ranchers have their cows calve in the spring instead of winter,” Hoppe says. “Warmer weather, more daylight, less mud, green grass, vigorous calves and less health problems create a sense of enjoyment for raising cattle and enthusiasm for the industry. This year’s cold, deep snow and sick or dying calves because of the weather is depressing to many producers. Ranchers find solace in trying their best and getting moral support from family, neighbors, veterinarians and others.”

“With continued high crop prices, I wouldn’t be surprised if more cattle producers exit the cattle industry,” says John Dhuyvetter, Extension area livestock specialist at the NDSU North Central Research Extension Center. “The older rancher doesn’t need the hardship of a cold, snowy spring. However, some enterprising young ranchers may see this as an opportunity to start new cow herds or expand what they have. However, that doesn’t help this year’s calf crop.”

Information on managing cattle during cold weather is available at

NDSU Agriculture Communication – April 22, 2013

Source:Karl Hoppe, (701) 652-2951,
Source:John Dhuyvetter, (701)857-7679,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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