Weather takes toll on herds

Drooling is a sign of illness in cattle, as this heifer calf is experiencing Tuesday at Roberts Farms south of Clovis

By David Irvin: CNJ staff writer

Cows with pneumonia stuck in the mud is both a picture of helplessness, and for area cattle raisers, a symbol of lost profits.

This year’s wet weather and recent cold temperatures meant sickness and death for many cows at area dairies, feed lots and ranches. The financial impact of poor weather strikes dairies and feed lots from both sides.

“Their costs goes up and their revenue goes down,” said G.H. Cain, director of member services for Dairy Farmers of America southwest region.

He said dairy farmers spend more time and money preparing their lots when the ground is wet and muddy. Simultaneously, milk yields from the cows decrease as the animals expend more energy fighting off the weather.

A reduction in milk production per cow directly impacts the gross revenue of the dairy, he said.

Ranchers and feed lot operators have similar considerations, but they measure their success on how heavy they can get their cows.

“They just have to walk around in that mud, and that’s quite a chore for the cattle,” said Harold Diaz, a manager with Oppliger Cattle Feeders.

Feed lot employees also have to fight through the mud, which raises safety issues for the pen riders, he said. These factors contributed to making this year a little worse than average for his lot, he said.

Some area ranchers have experienced increased death rates because cold, wet weather caused sicknesses in the herds.

“I saw some of the area farmers that had a pretty bad death loss during (December),” said area rancher, Don Roberts.

By the time he receives his cattle and puts them out to wheat pasture, they have been around a lot of cattle in the markets and in the hands of many different people, leading to a higher possibility of sickness. At that point, any additional stress caused by wet or cold weather can exacerbate cattle sickness and increase the potential for deaths.

“I think the wet weather affects them real bad, and if you have the cold on top of that, it just adds to it. It’s a double-whammy,” he said.

While he was able to protect his herd through the cold, he said some ranchers were hit pretty hard with cattle deaths. Signs of a sick cow include drooling and hanging of the head, and antibiotics are often prescribed, which can be costly.

But a cow death is the highest expense, he says, since the rancher loses the cost of the cow, medical costs associated with the particular cow and even costs associated with providing a pasture.

Local dairy farmer and County Commissioner Albin Smith said December was definitely a tough month, but in the long run it all averages out. He said sick cows must be isolated so as to protect the rest of the herd and to help them get better.

“On a month-to-month basis, December was tough, but on a year-to-year basis, it’s not much different than normal,” he said. “A good operator is going to be very attentive to his cows, and it just makes more work for all our staff (when the weather is poor).”

Diaz said cold weather ultimately makes the cattle more hearty and strengthens the herd going into the spring.