The Richmond Register

February 12, 2014

Winter cold kills hundreds of livestock

By Seth Littrell
Register News Writer

RICHMOND — Slippery roads and expensive heating bills have not been the only problems caused by the severe winter weather. For some farmers, the cold has led to numerous livestock deaths.

At Tuesday morning’s Madison Fiscal Court meeting, Solid Waste Coordinator Scott Tussey said his staff removed more than 200 head of dead livestock from local farms in 27 work days.

The harsh winter environment has been especially deadly for calves and other young animals, according to Brandon Sears, Madison County Extension Agent for Agriculture and Natural Resources.

“It’s the cold temperatures combined with the wind,” he said. “They (newborn calves) are covered in fluid. If the mother can’t get them licked off and get them suckling soon, they’re in danger.”

Warming temperatures do not guarantee safety, Sears explained. When warmer weather melt ice and snow, deep pockets of mud tend to form, especially around livestock feeders. Calves have been lost after getting bogged down in the mud with no way to pull themselves out.

Adult animals also can be at risk, Sears said, especially when freezing rains soak their coats.

“When temperatures drop below zero with a lot of wind, the energy needs of livestock can increase by as much as a third just to maintain body temperatures,” Sears said.

This makes the animals eat more, requiring more hay or supplemental feed. Fortunately, the wet summer of 2013 resulted in an increased hay crop, and while quality is down, supplies have remained largely stable, he added.

The best way for farmers to help keep their livestock healthy, according to Sears, is to pay close attention to when births are due and move the mother and the little one to a barn out of the wind. If a barn is not available, some farmers have created wind breaks by placing hay bales on or around a wagon or structure, he said.

Farmers should ensure there is plenty of feed available to meet their animals’ needs, Sears added. They should also watch water sources that freeze when temperatures drop.

Other farmers may soon see difficulties as well, Sears warned. With propane supplies diminishing, tobacco farmers may need to begin stocking fuel to maintain their greenhouses or face the possibility of shortages.

Seth Littrell can be reached at slittrell@richmondregister.com or 624-6623.