This winter has been one of the coldest and snowiest in recent memory for most parts of the U.S. Even the normally temperate southeastern part of the country hasn’t been immune to the frigid temperatures, ice and snow. In fact, in mid-February, Florida was the only state in the U.S. that didn’t have at least some snow on the ground.
While the harsh winter is great news for snow plow crews and winter coat manufacturers, it creates some extra work for cattle ranchers, who are taking extra precautions to ensure their herd’s health and safety. Without the proper care, extreme cold can cause even a healthy animal to lose weight or become ill — not to mention the physical damage that winter storms can do to the farm facilities and equipment.
Understand Nutritional Requirements
Most ranchers rate cattle body condition on a scale of 1 to 9, with 1 indicating an emaciated cow and 9 indicating an obese animal. Ideally, a healthy cow should rate around a 5 or 6, or weigh an average of 1200 to 1300 pounds as measured on an accurate livestock scale. However, cows burn more energy when they are cold to maintain their body temperature, meaning that in harsh winter weather like that we have been experiencing, animals who don’t receive the right amount of nutrition can lose weight.
Ranchers point out the fluctuations in temperature during the winter months make it imperative to understand the nutritional needs of their animals. More specifically, one needs to know the point at which a cow reaches “critical temperature,” or the point at which food intake needs to increase. For the average healthy cow with a winter coat of hair, this point is usually between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. For a thinner cow, or a cow without a healthy coat, the critical temperature is much higher. Until the temperature reaches that critical point, the animal does not need to eat more than usual; for every 10 degrees below the critical temperature, the animal needs 10 percent more food to stay warm.
Cold Weather Equals Increased Prices
As a result of the extreme cold temperatures in normally temperate regions, consumers are seeing a short-term increase in beef prices at the grocery store. In December 2013, the price for a pound of choice beef was approximately five cents more than the same beef a year earlier. Experts attribute the increase in cost to decreased supply — farmers have not been sending as many animals to market this winter out of fear the frigid temperatures could hurt them — and the increased costs to feed to the animals.
Most experts predict, though, this price increase is only temporary and that consumers should see prices decrease by the beginning of March, when the supply of beef increases. Based on predictions at the recent National Cattle Industry Annual Convention, thanks to marked improvements in the weather and the price of feed, consumers should see beef prices drop considerably more over the course of the year. In the meantime, ranchers are working diligently to care for their cows, keeping them warm and healthy until spring.