CSU SEA Says: Severe Cold Weather Preparedness

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Areas often known for their mild winters can still be hit with a major snowstorm or extreme cold and wind.  Many residents of southeastern Colorado were caught off guard when severe blizzard conditions struck in December of 2006.  For most, memories of livestock loss and property damage as well as the rescue efforts and recovery that followed well into 2007, will not soon be forgotten.  Similar incidences of wind, snow, and cold also resulted in major cattle losses in an early October storm located in South Dakota in 2013.

With last week’s extremely cold temperatures throughout Colorado, winter, is far from over.  It is important that people are prepared to protect themselves, their families, and their livestock from the hazards of severe winter weather.  In addition to normal emergency preparedness, there are tips and reminders that can help with preparing for or protecting yourself and your livestock should you encounter severe winter storms.

Wind is one of the most dangerous aspects of winter weather.  Usually severe cold alone will not affect animals on full feed.  The addition of wind with or without precipitation can easily change this, however.  Wind has about the same effect of exposure to a sudden drop in temperature.  In general, 20 mph winds are equivalent to a 30o F negative change in temperature.  Snow also easily drifts and drastically reduces visibility when wind is present.  Swirling and relocation of snow can continue long after snow had ceased to fall.  Therefore, when checking weather conditions, it is important to consider wind and snow as a joint issue when deciding what levels of protection your livestock may need.

Livestock’s increased need for shelter, food, and water due to wind in conjunction with severe or prolonged cold should be the focal point for owners looking to reduce loss and illness.  If possible, livestock, especially the young and very old, should be moved into sheltered areas.  Knowing where and how badly snow drifts in certain areas, in advance of a large storm, can be very helpful in determining properly sheltered areas.  Patterns can be noted in smaller storms and be expected to be magnified in more severe occurrences.  If using landscape topographic features such as ravines, canyons, draws, or windbreaks as a form of shelter, remember that prolonged storms with heavy snow and wind can cause these areas to be overcome with snow and trap animals, denying them access to food and water. If man made structured housing is available for use as protection, proper ventilation is necessary to assure adequate oxygen to livestock.

During severe weather, animals need extra feed to produce body heat as well as maintain body condition and/or production weight gains.  A normal winter feeding regimen will not sustain livestock in these types of conditions.  If possible, additional feed stuffs should be hauled in before a large storm arrives.  Snow and ice storms can often render winter range and pasture inaccessible for grazing or foraging.  For storms lasting in excess of 48 hours, emergency, high energy feeding methods such as pelleted cake or cake concentrate may be required.

Even during weather events resulting in large amounts of snow, plenty of clean, available water is extremely necessary.  Animals cannot lick or eat sufficient amounts of snow to satisfy their daily water intake needs.  When possible, water heaters or circulators are advised.  If this method of preventing water freezing is not applicable, breaking ice and/or hauling additional water sources may be needed.

If protecting your livestock requires you to be out in the storm for elongated periods of time, certain safety precautions should be considered.  Always keep fuel tanks of needed vehicles full.  This helps prevent water from getting in the fuel as well as provides the best case scenario should you become stranded in the storm.  Several layers of warm, loose fitting layers should be worn to insulate your body.  If travel is necessary, be sure to let someone know where you are going and at what time to expect you back safely.

Southeast Colorado may not always have severe winter weather, but there are tasks that can be accomplished in the meantime.  Make sure that insurance policies are up to date and provide adequate protection that includes provisions regarding extreme winter weather.  Have emergency equipment and supplies in a safe, readily accessible area.  Keep all heavy or specialized equipment serviced and in working order should weather hit unexpectedly. Run through differing winter weather scenarios in your mind.  Are there items or equipment you are missing or anticipate needing?  If these items are not available or easily purchased, having a plan to borrow a neighbors’ or where the nearest help may be found can be crucial in emergency situations.

This article is not designed to provide a specific plan for livestock disaster management. Its intent is to start the thought process to make you and your operation more resilient and better prepared so you can survive better, recover faster, and possibly mitigate future risks. Each disaster and impact is site unique.

For more information please visit www.ext.colostate.edu to access fact sheets 1.814, Caring for Livestock Before Disaster; 1.815, Caring for Livestock During Disaster and 1.816, Caring for Livestock After Disaster.  You may also contact your local Extension Office:  Baca County 719-523-6971, Bent County 719-456-0764, Cheyenne County 719-767-5716, Crowley County 719-267-5243, Kiowa County 719-438-5321, Otero County 719-254-7608, Prowers County 719-336-7734, or  find us on the web at:

http://www.extension.colostate.edu/SEA.  CSU SEA Extension offers up-to-date, unbiased, research-based information to families in Southeast Colorado.  CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. Be Safe!

By Mallory Sikes
Area Extension Agent
4-H Youth Development and Livestock/Range Management
Phone: (719) 523-6971

Filed Under: AgricultureBusinesscommunityEducationEnvironmentFeaturedMedia ReleaseWeather


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