Cold weather bad news for cows

By Casey Peachock: Freedom Newspapers

PORTALES — Come rain or shine, snow or ice, livestock producers must battle the elements on a daily basis to ensure their livestock is cared for and their livelihood is not damaged or lost. Snow and ice storms that have recently hit the area, with temperatures dropping down into the single digits, are a small indication of what producers must face.

“It’s been a terrible year,” said Jim Idsinga, a Roosevelt County dairy farmer. “We’re taking some pretty hard hits.”
Wet weather conditions have contributed to pens turning into mud pits, which causes cattle to work harder to move around. With only a small window between storms, Idsinga and his crew have been working 12-hour shifts to try and keep the corrals scraped and clean, he said.

Idsinga typically milks his cows three times a day. With the recent weather causing stress on the cattle, that has dropped to two times daily. Cattle expend a lot of energy being moved and having to work harder to get around in the wet and muddy conditions, he said.

“The cows need strength and stamina to keep their body weight on,” Idsinga said.

“When it gets down to subzero temperatures, their (cows) are using all of their energy to keep heated up,” said Curry County Agriculture Extension Agent Stan Jones.

Weight loss is a significant factor in cold weather. The conditions also contribute to cattle slipping and falling, which can lead to a death loss. Older cattle are more susceptible to the harsher conditions, said Jones.

“Anytime it’s wet, you are going to see some downer cows,” Jones said.

Taking the hardest hit of the weather has been the northern part of New Mexico, with the ramifications to be felt throughout the entire livestock industry in the state. Cattle and dairy producers are losing an average of $700 to $900 a head, said Clay Mathis, livestock specialist for New Mexico State Agriculture.

“Livestock is a low-margin industry, and significant loss can be hard to recover from,” said Mathis.

Producers also have to contend with calving. At this point, some area producers have cattle that have begun to calve earlier than normal. The cold weather is making it hard for the calves to get up and suckle. The producers have to milk the cow first, insert a tube down the calf’s throat, then pour the milk into the tube for the calf to receive the milk it needs to get it on its feet, said Jones.

Healthwise, Roosevelt County producer George Peterson hasn’t had any problems with his cattle during the recent bad weather. The biggest issue for him has been water. Because of the weather and power outages, Peterson has had to move several head of cattle to different locations with wells pumped by windmills in order for them to have access to water.

“We’re really in good shape, considering the situation,” said Peterson.