NDSU Extension - Burke County


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Ranchers Affected By Weather

County Agent News
Dan Folske
October 21, 2019

Ranchers Affected By Weather

“Ranchers affected by weather”, now there is a profound statement! Ranching and farming is always affected by weather but 2019 has brought more than its share of extreme weather related issues across North Dakota. In Burke and Divide counties the dry spring made for a relatively easy planting season but severely affected hay production. While much of the state was reporting record-breaking forage production, cattlemen in this corner of the state were reporting only half of normal hay yields or even less. Late summer rains created some great opportunities for annual forages like millet but the continued rain and snow, which has made crop harvesting so difficult and causing devastating quality losses in small grains, has made harvesting of those annual forages very difficult and completely ruining much of it.

Unharvested small grains on land that normally provides fall grazing for livestock producers is also affecting fall cattle management. I have had several calls relating to grazing standing wheat crops. This poor quality standing grain or windrowed grain may an additional feed source for producers short on forage but it is not without risk. The germination and loss of test weight in the wheat does reduce the starch content and reduces some of the danger of cattle consuming too much wheat. However, there is still a possibility of acidosis and other complications. The immediate danger of bloating can be reduced by making sure cattle are full when turning them into fields with unharvested crop. Feeding some hay bales first will reduce the amount of grain eaten when you first turn the cattle into those fields. By reducing the amount of grain consumed you provide the rumen with a chance to adapt to the new food source. It may not eliminate the danger but reduces it substantially. Another concern of the possible grain intake is foundering. While not as common in cattle as in horses, the heavy grain intake can cause foot problems which may be long term. It is possible that some of these cows grazing on the unharvested grain may have issues with abnormal hoof growth in future years resulting in culling them from the cow herd at a younger age than normal.

While dealing with the current and recent weather related issues some producers may still have to deal with last winter’s cold temperatures.  Here is an article about marketing calves born during the extreme cold temperatures we had last winter and spring.

NDSU Extension Offers Marketing Advice for Cattle Affected by Cold Spring


In the spring of 2019, the Northern and Central Plains regions experienced extremely cold and snowy weather. The sub-zero temperatures during calving season caused many calves to lose their ears and tails to frostbite, which can then cause cattle buyers to discount those calves during fall sales, says Bryon Parman, North Dakota State University Extension agricultural finance specialist.

"While frozen ears and tails are not necessarily a problem in and of themselves, they do indicate a calf was born under cold conditions," says Karl Hoppe, NDSU Extension livestock systems specialist at the Carrington Research Extension Center. "Whether frozen ears are a result of the cow repeatedly licking the calf's ears and making them wet during freezing temperatures or a calf being born during a windy, below freezing day, both can result in short ears." 

Short tails could result from freezing temperatures or from being stepped on by a cow. Both are indications that the calf might be, but not necessarily, at a health risk, says Hoppe.

Short ears may reduce the option to implant calves since the ear may not be long enough to be implanted according to labeled directions. Feedlot gain and final weights will be reduced when not using implants.

"Discounts for calves with short, frozen ears or tails, and other less-desirable market factors are always greatest during the heavy fall calf marketing season,"

says Tim Petry, NDSU Extension livestock marketing specialist. "Last year, discounts of $30 or more per hundredweight sometimes occurred."

Petry adds, "Discounts could even be greater this year with more short-eared calves expected to be marketed. Furthermore, discounts do not seem to be consistent from lot to lot at a sale and from one sale to the next. At times, calf sellers are surprised at how severe the discounts are when they receive their sale proceeds. Producers are encouraged to contact their market for advice prior to marketing calves that may be discounted."

Producers have several options to help them reduce discounts on cold-affected calves at sale time, says Parman.

The first option is to have a veterinarian examine animals with frozen ears and tails. A certification from a veterinarian that no further damage was done beyond the frozen ears and tails can assure potential buyers there are no future health issues with those animals resulting in stunted growth or severe illness.

The second option is to hold back animals missing ears and/or tails until they reach a weight of 800 lbs. This would ensure that any cold weather lung or foot damage issues would appear by the time they reach market weight.

Producers should weigh the cost of keeping an animal for an extended period of time to ensure that it is healthy versus the discount that may occur for cold-damaged animals.

Parman cautions, "Holding back additional animals this year in North Dakota may be expensive given the shortage of forage or hay in some areas of the state."





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