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Brummund: Warm winters good for caring for livestock

Submitted Photo The winter of 2020-2021 has been very mild and a good one for livestock. Photo by Paige Brummund.

Warm winters are always appreciated when caring for livestock, says Paige Brummund, Agriculture and Natural Resources extension agent with NDSU Extension Service-Ward County.

“The cattle are more comfortable and they gain a higher body condition score with less feed,” Brummund said.

Brummund, responding to questions from The Minot Daily News, said there are no real problems with the above average temperatures this winter.

“Maybe in a snowy year it would be a nuisance to have the snow melting and refreezing causing icy conditions, but that is not a concern this winter. Extreme temperature swings can be stressful to livestock, but we have had steady above average temps so we just haven’t seen any troubles with the warmer weather switching abruptly to subzero temperatures. I guess there is one concern…sometimes with warm, snow free winters we are tempted to leave cattle out grazing longer than we should. Remember that spring calving cows are now in their last trimester of gestation and require additional energy (at least 60% total digestible nutrients) and protein (at least 9% crude protein). Be sure to be checking the body condition of your cattle regularly and work with Extension, your veterinarian, or a nutritionist to be sure you are meeting their nutritional needs,” she said.

Brummund said she’s not certain how long it has been since there’s been such a nice winter for cattle owners.

“I haven’t heard anyone refer back to another year,” Brummund said, adding, “I do know that we are not only warmer this winter, but also very dry. We are in a moderate drought in this part of the state, and while it is more unusual to be in a drought in the middle of the winter, it is not unheard of. We had the highest drought rating in the month of December since 2003.

As for if hay supplies are holding out for cattle owners, Brummund said, “There were some people who ended the growing season with around 50% less hay production than normal due to the dry summer. However, others were able to get more amounts of hay put up because the weather was dry enough to allow more ideal days for cutting and baling hay. It didn’t take long this year to get hay dry enough to bale. Most of the hay this year was good to excellent quality, and that helps. Also having these warmer temperature is easier of the feed supplies. Livestock require higher energy feeds and more quantity of feed when we experience low temperatures and wind chills. When temperatures are below 5 degrees, cattle consume up to 25% more feed.”

In regard to hay, she also said, “I think the hay is out there, but people are considering keeping their extra and carrying it over for next year in anticipation that there will be hay shortages next year if we do not get spring rain. When I look around, there are quite a few ‘hay for sale’ ads with hay priced fairly. The trucking costs adds up though if it is not close to you. Hay doesn’t store great from year to year so while it’s good to look ahead and maybe consider carrying some hay over, keeping too much around will end up with much more of it going to waste.”

Dan Erdmann, program manager for Farm Rescue, said, “We really haven’t had many requests for livestock feeding or haying assistance as of late, but I know it was a pretty dry year for many ranchers (especially in the western part of the state). We did assist with several haying cases this summer/fall, as well as a recent hay hauling case, but those were the result of injury or illness. We’re always taking applications from folks who may need a helping hand as a result of injury, illness or natural disaster.”

Farm Rescue, based in Horace, is a nonprofit organization to help farmers and ranchers who have experienced a major illness, injury or natural disaster by providing the necessary equipment and manpower to plant, hay or harvest their crop. Livestock feeding assistance is also available to ranchers. The organization helps farm and ranch families in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Iowa, Nebraska and Kansas. For more information and for applications visit farmrescue.org.

If there isn’t much snow this winter, Brummund responded to what is forecasted to be ahead for cattle owners.

“The entire state is experiencing some type of a drought currently,” Brummund said. “Even if we get some snow, we will need timely spring rains to replenish soil moisture to provide for pasture growth and hay production in 2021. There isn’t much moisture present in snow, and the little that is there typically runs off in the spring melt while the ground is still frozen. This helps to recharge dugouts, streams, and sloughs; but does not provide enough moisture to recharge the soil. Timely spring and summer rain will be essential to pull us out of drought conditions.”

She offered some advice to cattle owners:

She said producers should always have a drought mitigation plan in place to help them make decisions in case it stays dry through 2021.

“Some things to start thinking about are marketing plans, sourcing and pricing next year’s feed, managing drought-stressed pastures, managing poor quality water sources, culling priorities, early weaning strategies, and the animal health issues that are more prevalent in times of drought,” Brummund said.

She said drought resources from NDSU get posted at: www.ag.ndsu.edu/drought.

“NDSU Extension will be having some meetings to help producers work through their drought plans,” she said.

It should be a great winter/spring for calving if we don’t get a lot of snow. The majority of cattle calve in the spring in this region, time will tell what the weather will bring. We hope for warm, dry conditions for calving season as well, yet need some spring rains.

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