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Fixing Broken Legs in Calves –Just like new

Young calves sometimes fracture a limb, which must be cast or splinted for proper healing. Robert Cope DVM (veterinarian in Salmon, Idaho for 44 years) has cast and splinted hundreds of broken legs. “To get the bone set correctly, it must be supported so it’s not weight-bearing, and wrapped tightly so there’s no movement. It’s easiest and most successful when we can keep the calf from moving and struggling while we do it. I use a tiny bit of tranquilizer (about 1/12 cc of Rompum). This knocks them out for about an hour, which gives enough time for what you need to do with the leg,” says Cope.

To immobilize the leg, he starts with a stockinette (soft, loosely-knitted stretchy fabric) over the leg, pads it with cotton, wrapping with Vet-wrap to hold it securely in place, then uses fiberglass vet-casting tape to create a cast. Generally one 6-inch roll of “instant cast” tape is enough to do the job.

This will immobilize a fracture below the knee or hock. “Breaks above the knee or hock are difficult because you must stabilize the joints above and below the fracture. It’s hard to do that with the stifle or elbow unless you use a special crutch splint. The good news is that most fractures are on the lower leg—from being stepped on, or having a chain slip when pulling a calf—and those heal quickly,” says Cope.

Young bones are growing so fast that they can heal even if the ends are displaced. “There’s a saying in pediatric orthopedics in humans, that if the bone fragments are in the same room they will eventually reach each other. If you get them fairly close together and reasonably straight, they heal in about 3 weeks. I like to leave the cast on a little longer, to be safe, but you must allow for growth of the calf—and not have the cast get too tight,” he explains.

“Sometime between 2 and 3 weeks, I ‘zonk’ the calf out again (so he won’t be struggling) and cut the cast down the side. This makes a clam-shell effect so you can open it a little to provide more room for the growing leg, and tape it back together. Then you can give it another 2 weeks and remove the cast, and the leg is healed,” he says.

If a rancher must do emergency splinting to stabilize a broken leg until the vet can apply a cast, Cope says this can be accomplished using a lot of cotton and pressure from an ace bandage. “Then the important thing is to keep the calf calm and quiet so he’s not trying to move around much—to reduce risk for compounding that fracture (pushing the broken bone or a bone fragment through the skin),” he explains.

If bone comes through the skin, opening the way for contamination and infection, you have a serious problem. “Compound fractures on cattle are almost always fatal, even with antibiotics, since bone infections are difficult to treat,” he says.

The best type of splint is simply layers and layers of padding, since it’s difficult to create an adequate splint with something solid like wood or PVC pipe cut lengthwise. “PVC pipe works great to resolve contracted tendons—newborn calves with fetlock joints knuckled under, walking on the front of the joint. You can pad that leg with cotton and encase it in PVC pipe from the back of the heel to somewhere above the fetlock. The PVC cut lengthwise supports the leg, keeping the joint straight so the calf can put weight on the toes. The weight of the calf will stretch the tendons and straighten the leg.”

It’s harder to make PVC pipe work for a splint to support a fracture, because you need the right size pipe that really fits the leg. “Generally the pipe is too small or too big. It’s almost never the right size.” Unless it’s a good fit it may do more harm than good.

“Sometimes we use what’s called a Robert Jones bandage, and all it consists of is a lot of cotton in a really tight wrap. This can stabilize a fracture pretty well, even better than a splint. Wood or PVC is awkward to use, whereas the bandage wraps fit perfectly and snugly,” he explains.

The best padding/packing is roll cotton, but if you don’t have cotton you could use small soft towels. “The trick is to have a lot of tight padding. It can’t be loose, and you must apply it clear down over the hoof so you don’t cut off blood circulation at the coronary band. Put on one layer and wrap it tight with Vet Wrap or an ace bandage, then apply more padding over that, and wrap it tight with another ace bandage or Vet Wrap, then another,” he says. Then it’s solid and secure and can’t slop around and get loose. If you use multiple layers with multiple wraps it works well.

The padding is soft against the leg, but very solid. “You can make this kind of wrap almost as hard/solid as a cast. This will stabilize the leg for a few days if necessary, but then you need your vet to apply a cast. It’s almost impossible to loosen this wrap (to allow for leg growth) without taking it completely off. If you have to take it clear off to reapply it, the unsupported leg is at risk if the calf struggles while you’re trying to do it. But after your vet puts a cast on the leg, you can later cut it lengthwise (for enlargement) and leave it on, to keep the leg stable.”

A calf with bandage or cast must be in a dry place; otherwise it will wick moisture if the calf walks in mud or water. The cotton or stockinette gets soggy and pulls moisture up into it.”

ONE RANCHER’S EXPERIENCE – Andrea Daine’s family ranches near Baker, Idaho. In the past 25 years they’ve had several broken legs in young calves. “The first was a newborn calf, born in January. The mom stepped on its hind leg and broke it before the calf got up. We had to hold the calf up, next to the cow, for it to nurse, then called our vet. We tried to make a splint to stabilize the leg until he got here, but it didn’t work very well,” says Daine.

“Our vet, Jeff Hoffman, put a fiberglass cast on the leg and wrapped it with Vet Wrap to help keep it clean and dry, and we put the pair in the barn. They lived in there several weeks. We watered the cow twice a day and took the tub back out of the stall so the calf wouldn’t walk in it and get the cast wet,” says Daine.

When the calf was 3 weeks old they sliced the cast lengthwise down the outside, to make more room for the growing leg, and used duct tape and Vet Wrap to secure it again. The leg healed nicely; that calf grew up to become a good cow.

“The second fracture was when a young calf got stepped on while the cows were running around one night, harassed by wolves. The break was above the hock, however, and impossible to cast. Dr. Hoffman improvised, using a plastic dog splint in the shape of the hind leg, putting it against the leg with padding under it, then used many wraps of adhesive bandage. It worked, and that leg healed beautifully, too,” says Daine.

“Our most recent experience was a few years ago when a calf’s hind leg broke during an accident while branding—getting caught on at a bad angle on the calf table. On that one, our vet just used multiple layers of padding and elastic wrap. The leg had a knot on it after it healed, but as the calf grew up that lump became less obvious and the leg was fine,” she says.

Scours a Problem in N.D. Calves

NDSU’s Extension veterinarian offers advice to help cattle producers reduce the risk of scours and other problems.

North Dakota State University Extension livestock experts are warning producers to protect their calves from scours.

The majority of scours, or diarrhea, cases occur when calves are 3 and 16 days old. Untreated calves essentially die of shock from a loss of fluids.

“Calf scours are most often associated with infectious, and environmental and nutritional stresses,” says NDSU Extension veterinarian Gerald Stokka.

There are a number of infectious causes of calf scours, both viral and bacterial. However, an organism called Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes scours. Cryptosporidia usually is found in conjunction with other scour-causing bacteria or viruses.

“Unfortunately, this organism presents management problems as there is no vaccine or licensed therapeutic agent available,” Stokka says.

Conditions Leading to Scours

Inadequate nutrition for the pregnant dam, particularly during the last third of gestation, as well as the calf’s exposure to poor environmental conditions, insufficient attention to the newborn calf or a combination of these often results in scours outbreaks, he notes.

Not meeting the pregnant dam’s energy and protein requirements will decrease the quality and quantity of the cow’s colostrum. Colostrum is a form of milk that mammals produce in late pregnancy. It contains energy, protein, fat and vitamins, plus antibodies to protect newborns against disease until their own immune system is totally functional. Deficiencies in vitamins A and E, and trace minerals have been associated with greater incidence of calf scours.

Inadequate environment conditions, such as mud, overcrowding, contaminated lots, calving heifers and cows together, wintering and calving in the same area, storms, heavy snow, cold temperatures and rainfall are all stressful to the newborn calf and increase its exposure to infectious agents.

“Attention to the newborn calf is essential, particularly during difficult births or adverse weather conditions,” Stokka advises. “The calf is born without most antibodies, including those that fight the infectious agents that cause scours. The calf will acquire these antibodies only from colostrum. Because of this, any effort to prevent scours by vaccinating cows is wasted unless the calf actually receives colostrum, preferably before it is 2 to 6 hours old.

“As the calf grows older, it rapidly loses its ability to absorb colostral antibodies,” he adds. “Colostrum given to calves that are more than 24 to 36 hours old will be less than ideal as antibodies are seldom absorbed this late in life.”

Under range conditions, a calf adapts a pattern of nursing that fills its needs. Calf scours can be the result of anything that disrupts this normal habit, such as a storm, strong wind or the dam going off in search of new grass. When the calf eventually nurses, it is overly hungry and the cow has more milk than normal. This inconsistent nursing may lead to a condition known as enterotoxemia. The organism most often involved with this is clostridium perfringens of which there are several types.

The disease has a sudden onset. Affected calves become listless and strain or kick at their abdomen. Bloody diarrhea may or may not occur. In some cases, calves may die without any signs being observed.

Treating Scours

“The key to successful treatment is identifying and successfully treating a dehydrated animal early,” Stokka says.

Calves that have lost significant amounts of fluid will have skin that “tents” (stays up for more than 3 seconds when you pull it away from the body), a dry mouth, cold ears and sunken eyeballs. They often have low blood sugar, low body temperature and low urine output, and have decreased blood electrolyte (sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, chloride) levels that adversely affect organ function, particularly the heart. They are visibly depressed.

The critical first step in treating cases of calf scours is correcting dehydration and electrolyte loss. Antibiotics can be administered if deemed appropriate by your veterinarian. Stokka recommends using a nipple bottle to replace the calf’s fluids if scours is detected early, when the calf still is standing and relatively bright.

“In these situations, it is best to leave the calf on milk and add several 2-quart electrolyte feedings a day to replace the fluid that is being lost through diarrhea,” he says.

Calves that are down but alert probably need to have fluids administered with a stomach tube. They will need 2 quarts of a high-energy electrolyte solution containing glucose several times a day. Producers may need to provide some heat source as well.

Calves that are comatose or lying down must be administered fluids intravenously.

Producers need to be thorough when replacing fluids in a scouring animal, according to Stokka.

“First of all, the amount of fluid lost must be replaced,” he says. “It is a common mistake to give the animal too little fluids. A 100-pound calf that is 10 percent dehydrated will need about 10 liters of fluid a day to just to replace fluid loss.”

Diagnosing Scours

Send samples to a laboratory as early as possible.

Consult your veterinarian about collecting appropriate samples.

If your veterinarian is not available, collect a fresh fecal sample from an untreated calf. Place this sample in a sterile plastic container and submit it to the lab chilled for analysis.

If you have a dead animal, submit it to the lab within 24 hours of death.

Prevention Strategies

Maximize the calves’ ingestion of colostrum immediately after birth.

Maintain the cows’ proper nutrition and body condition.

Minimize the dose of an infectious agent to which the calf is exposed.

Minimize the density of susceptible calves.

Keep calving premises clean and dry.

Isolate sick animals. Don’t comingle them with uninfected calves.

Sanitize equipment.

“Also remember that many infectious agents that cause calf scours can cause disease in people as well,” Stokka says. “Wear gloves and wash your hands. When working with sick animals, treat them last, and wear dedicated coveralls and boots that can be washed.

“Individuals with any disorder of the immune system and pregnant women should not work with sick calves in any way as they are more susceptible to zoonotic disease,” he notes.

–NDSU Extension

Make sure that rations are adequate for lactating cows

The first 60 to 90 days post-calving are the most nutritionally demanding period in the production cycle, and the expectations for a cow at this time are many.

Calving season is in full swing across much of North Dakota, and the first 60 to 90 days post-calving are the most nutritionally demanding period in the production cycle, according to two North Dakota State University animal scientists.

“The expectations for a cow at this time are many,” says Janna Block, livestock systems specialist at the Hettinger Research Extension Center. “She must produce milk, repair her reproductive tract, resume her estrous cycle, get pregnant again and possibly continue to grow. Total nutrients — water, energy, protein, vitamins and minerals — consumed each day by the cow are utilized based on biological priorities of maintenance, growth, lactation and reproduction. Because reproduction is lowest on the priority list, it is one of the first factors affected if nutrition is inadequate between calving and breeding. A typical 1,400 lb. cow producing 20 lbs. of milk per day at peak milk (about 60 days post-calving) needs 10% crude protein (CP) and 59% total digestible nutrient (TDN) as a percentage of her dry matter intake to meet production demands.”

“This time of high nutrient requirements for cows occurs in conjunction with pasture turnout on many ranches in the region,” adds Miranda Meehan, Extension livestock environmental stewardship specialist and Animal Sciences assistant professor. “Typically, pasture turnout takes place in mid-May or early June when grasses are actively growing and have high crude protein of at least 15% and total digestible nutrient levels of at least 60%, which would be sufficient to meet cow requirements.”

However, due to forage shortages and lot conditions, many producers already have turned cattle out on pasture to graze standing forage from the 2018 growing season, the specialists say. They recommend that producers consider forage availability and quality to ensure that nutrient requirements of grazing livestock are met.

The most accurate way to determine the amount of standing available forage is the clip and weigh method. Detailed instructions are in the “NDSU Extension Range and Forage Production Sample Kits” publication found at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/environment-natural-resources/ndsu-extension-range-and-forage-production-sample-kits or by searching “NDSU range and forage sample kit.”

“Quality of dormant forage can vary widely depending on species, environmental factors and pasture management,” says Meehan.

In North Dakota, the majority of grazing resources are cool-season dominant. This standing forage is low in crude protein, with cool-season species typically containing less than 5% CP and warm-season species around 6% CP. Meehan says energy content also is generally low for these forages, with cool-season grasses falling below 50% TDN and warm seasons at about 52% TDN. Even if forage availability is adequate, cows may not physically be able to eat enough dormant forage to fulfill requirements.

“Forage intake is generally limited by the capacity of the digestive tract,” Block says. “High-quality forage is digested more rapidly and has an increased passage rate, which allows for increased intake. Some general rules of thumb have been established using forage quality to estimate forage intake on a dry-matter basis as a percentage of body weight for lactating cows. For low-quality forage (less than 52% TDN), dry matter intake will be around 2.2% of body weight. This amount may not supply adequate protein and energy to meet demands.”

Depending on the quantity and quality of available forage, supplementation may be necessary to ensure that requirements of lactating cows are met, say Block and Meehan. A variety of protein and energy supplements are available that can help fill nutritional gaps from forage. The objective is to balance nutrient deficiencies in a cost-efficient manner.

“This time of year, cows often prefer to graze and forage rather than consume hay,” Block says. “However, high-quality forage can be a source of additional nutrients. If feeding grains or other starches as an energy supplement, the maximum level to avoid negative impacts on fiber digestibility is 0.4% of the cow’s body weight. Fiber-based supplements, such as wheat midds, distillers grains or other co-products, can be used at higher levels. When forage contains less than 7% crude protein, some type of protein supplement with at least 20% crude protein is probably necessary. This includes feeds such as alfalfa hay, soybean meal, distillers grains and commercial supplements. Evaluate the appropriate supplement for a given situation based on nutrient content, availability and price.”

Block and Meehan encourage producers to compare supplements on a cost per pound of nutrient basis by using the NDSU Extension publication “Comparing Value of Feedstuffs” available at https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/landing-pages/livestock/comparing-feedstuffs-as-1742 or by searching “NDSU Comparing Value of Feedstuffs.”

They agree that supplying adequate nutrition for lactating cows is extremely critical in ensuring production goals are met. Producers need to develop rations that can economically meet this challenge, particularly when feed prices are high. For additional information about forage sampling or ration development, contact your local NDSU Extension agent.

–NDSU Extension

Demand strong, high heifers on feed numbers

The cash market has finally had some signs of life. Some northern prices reached the $130 live price last week with the south still at a disappointing $126 live. The $130 price was rumored early in the week from an unexpected packer and finished off with a major joining that bid. Not all producers received that $130 live price, but it was spotted. Nebraska had some significant trade at $208 dressed. The supply imbalance is the reason for difference from north to south. It is not unusual for the this to happen in the spring when our numbers are tighter.

Aberdeen showed up to the plate early in the week at $130 just 2 weeks after being approved to process Certified Angus Beef. The claim is that they have a goal of slaughtering higher quality cattle. With packer margins far in to the green, it would be a great opportunity for Aberdeen to capitalize on a shift to higher quality cattle. This was particularly interesting to me because more competition in the north would benefit the producer.

The cattle on feed report Thursday is slightly negative. Larger placements are the biggest hurdle so far from the reports. A large increase in heifers on feed along with weather problems earlier in the year are two reasons for this. Supply for the summer projects to be more than ample comparative to last year causing us to seek protection as needed.

The demand has stayed optimal through this peak of the cattle cycle. We can be thankful for that boost when we needed it the most. Happy Easter to everyone. I hope you enjoyed a juicy steak.

The risk of loss when trading futures and options is substantial. Each investor must consider whether this is a suitable investment. Past performance is not indicative of future results.

How Early is Too Early? Are gestation lengths changing in cattle?

“They were SUPPOSED to start calving February fifteenth, but they started January 26th!”

The frustration was obvious. A set of bred heifers purchased by a neighbor were calving early, not just by a few days, but by three weeks. Was this an intentional ‘sell ‘em so we don’t have to deal with ‘em’ situation, an accidental record keeping oversight, or was it a result of bred in calving ease from the use of low birth weight bulls for several generations?

Are our first calf heifers calving too early? Are the low birth weight Angus bulls being used on first calf heifers for multiple generations affecting the gestation length of the Angus breed overall? How significantly will this affect other breeds, commercial cattle herds, and the beef industry overall? Are we at risk for ‘over selecting’ for calving ease to the detriment of other important traits? Do we need to change the official ‘due date’ for our cows?

We may have more questions than answers.

Vaughn Thorstenson, Selby, South Dakota, raises purebred Angus, Gelbvieh, and Balancer bulls. Over several decades he has seen more of a change in the gestation length of the Angus cattle than in the Gelbvieh. “Gelbvieh were always 286 days and I’m pretty sure they’re still at 286, although this year we did have a few that came almost as early as some of the Angus calves,” he said. “The Angus are probably closer to 280, or 278, and certain sires that are really high calving ease are consistently two weeks early. Not all Angus bulls are that consistent but there are some that are. Usually we have half the Angus heifers calved out before the Gelbvieh start.”

Is this a problem? Some folks are beginning to think so, but Thorstenson isn’t so sure. He feels that the slightly shorter gestation actually pushes performance in his cattle. “If you can get that calf on the ground a week early as opposed to two weeks late he’s got a jump start on life. Nobody keeps their late born calves, because nobody wants to buy a bull with a 110 pound birth weight. That calf is going to be a steer.” This selection process has shortened up the gestation length in the Angus breed, and Thorstenson feels that this is a positive thing both for the Angus breed and the cattle industry so long as breeders are careful to select for performance traits as well as calving ease.

Thorstenson is careful to use both performance genetics and calving ease bulls in his herd to maintain a balance and believes that true prematurity in calves is more of an environmental issue than a genetic one. “If you don’t take good care of your cows during that third trimester then you’re going to see more small, weak, early calves simply because the cow didn’t get the nutrition she needed and was stressed,” he said.

Leo McDonnell of Columbus, Montana, is a breeder of registered Angus cattle and past owner of Midland Bull Test. Like Thorstenson, McDonnell believes balance is key: “Breeding cattle is always about maintaining balance and not going to extremes where we usually find negative consequences to other economically important traits.” He believes some may be breeding themselves into a corner if they’re not careful. He is concerned that more and more calves are arriving so early that they are weak and slow to get going, lacking the body mass to thrive in tough environmental conditions. McDonnell says his first calf heifers are usually ninety percent done calving by their 283 day ‘due date’ and that many of his customers are experiencing the same. He feels that the gestation length for Angus cattle should be adjusted by 7-10 days.

“Ranchers purchasing bred heifers aren’t always expecting the calves to show up a week or two prior to the date they were advertised to start calving,” McDonnell said.

Ethan Andress, DVM, says that he and his colleagues at West River Veterinary Service in Hettinger, North Dakota, are having the same conversation. They are involved with many producers in the area from conception to calving and beyond, and they are concerned about the patterns they’re seeing. They haven’t put together any hard numbers but the pattern they’ve observed over the last few years is more calves coming earlier and earlier. They are seeing more undersized calves and more calves that may appear normal but are weaker at birth. Their clients run predominately Angus cattle and include both purebred herds and commercial herds that AI yearling heifers with low birth weight Angus bulls. These bulls are popular because they have been proven to produce low birth weight calves, but part of the low birth weight is actually a shorter gestation length.

“We need to be asking ourselves the questions: is it safe? Is it practical? Is it profitable?” Andress said.

Producers are choosing low birth weight bulls for these same reasons: they want the safest delivery possible for first calf heifers. They want their cattle to be as trouble-free as possible, especially during the long hours of calving season; they all need that bottom line to be in the black at the end of the year. Getting calves on the ground alive is paramount, but do we need to be concerned that we’re getting too small? Too early?

Andress and his colleagues believe they are seeing a strong trend in that direction.

“Some of our AI programs are virtually done by their due date. Eighty-five to ninety percent of the heifers are calved out before they are ‘due.’ We are pushing the bell curve way up front,” Andress said.

In a few very specific cases they have seen calves come as early as twenty days prior to their due date. Within the clinic, they have already adjusted their estimated due date down to 280 days from 285 days when ultrasounding, and they are talking about moving it further. “We may need to move it to 275 or even 270,” Andress said.

What are the numbers from the Angus breed overall? The American Angus association doesn’t have all the data gathered yet. Kelli Retallick, American Angus Association, is hopeful that breeder participation in their new Maternal Plus herd reporting program will give conclusive information. “As the program grows, we will be able to run some of those numbers to get better answers,” she said.

George Perry, South Dakota State University Extension Beef Reproductive Management Specialist says we’re asking a loaded question and we simply do not have the data to answer it for a wide spectrum.

“So many things affect gestation length. Are there genetics involved? Definitely. But there are so many factors to consider. It’s easy to say a calf is premature and forget that stress from the calf is actually what signals parturition to begin.”

The weather during February and March of 2019 has certainly increased the stress levels pregnant cows have had to tolerate. Extreme cold and repeated storms and the type and quality of feed the cows are getting will also affect gestation length and a newborn calf’s resilience level.

Perry emphasized that there are significant differences between breeds. He agrees that there is a trend, especially in Angus cattle, toward shorter gestation length that corresponds to low birth weight but says we just don’t know if we actually have a problem when it comes right down to it because we don’t have the research giving us hard numbers that say we’re calving too early to a point of being dangerous.

He said we may just be noticing this trend toward shorter gestation more because we’re keeping better records today than we did a couple of generations ago. “Grandpa would turn out a bull, then maybe pregnancy test fifty or sixty days after he took the bull out. Then we were lucky to have a sort between first and second cycle. Now we’re synchronizing our cattle, AI’ing, and we have an ultrasound that says a calf is a certain gestational age.”

Producers need to remember that a ‘due date’ is just a number. “I’ve always said that two weeks early to two weeks late is ‘normal,’ Perry said. “270 days is only one day off from 14 days ‘early’ if you’re figuring a 285 day gestation length.” 270 days is within that timeframe if you’re figuring a 283 day average gestation.

Do producers need to be prepared for calves to come early? Perry said yes. Definitely. Do we need to change ‘the book?’ He’s not so sure about that. “We need to remember that these calving books are formulated for all breeds all across the country,” he said. “I grew up in south Texas, and when you add a little Brahman influence, 285 days is short!”

Nebraska crisis; cattlemen flooded with no place to go

Nebraska, a land of corn and cattle is half underwater, two thirds of the state declared disaster areas and over a score of towns evacuated. The heart of Nebraska’s farm county was dealt a cruel blow. Farmers and ranchers were cut off from their livestock or were unable to get them out due to the rapidly rising water and ice. Many lost all their feed, calving supplies, everything. Not knowing how they are going to care for the animals they still have. At this point producers are just trying to survive, hauling hay by boat and helicopter to marooned cattle, saving calves and treating sickness. With so much of the state still covered by water, ice chunks and bottomless mud the actually numbers of dead livestock are yet to be truly known. Some ranchers are estimating they lost at least 25 percent of their 2019 calf crop. This comes at a time when the weigh-up market is low yet producers can’t afford to feed a non-producing cow. These were some of the best and most productive members of the herd, the first ones to breed back, the ones who kept their calves alive through the bitter cold only to lose them now.

Talia Goes, Communications Director for the Nebraska Cattlemen spoke of the need these ranchers will have for fencing and vet supplies, feed, tools, many lost everything. “One producer knew the water was coming so he pulled all his calves and put them in a high barn because he knew he could save them. Thankfully the flooding wasn’t as bad and most of his cows survived.”

“This winter has been really hard on producers. Ranchers are always preparing, they are resilient and self-sufficient but there was nothing they could do here.” Goes said. “We heard that some feedlots moved their cattle, most of the others are on high enough ground that the cattle are safe from flood waters.”

Tye Bloom ranches with his family near the small town of Scotia, Nebraska. They have a cow/calf operation along with a little farming. He woke up in the night to their usually dry creek a raging river, cutting them off from their cows that were calving heavy at the time. “My house had water a foot from the porch, I could see rats and mice swimming, trying to get to dry ground. We were running around boarding things up so they couldn’t get in the house. My grandpa is 73 and he said he has never seen Wallace Creek flood like that.”

“It was the good eight inches of snow and the gale force winds that got us. Some of the calves drowned, others were tromped in the mud. The wind and snow pushed the cows. The worst part was going out once we could get to them and picking up the dead calves. The mommas were still standing over them, licking them, trying to get them up. We lost 34 calves; five or six of them were ET (embryo transplant) bull calves, our biggest calves.” Bloom said. “We had a lot of sick ones for the first few days, but haven’t lost any since. It is so hard to get around now with the bridges out and roads gone. Our Rangers are the only ways we can get around now.”

Bloom and his family are now forced to leave their vehicles and take a four mile ranger ride just to get home.

Leah Peterson, fifth generation farmer/rancher at Cooksley Clear Creek Far, near Weissert, Nebraska, told me her story.

“Last Wednesday morning at 6am, I woke to the sound of gentle rains hitting the steel roof of our old farm house along Clear Creek in Custer County, Nebraska.

As I scurried around to roust the kids and put them on the bus, my husband returned home from making an early run through the heifers and he wore a worried expression.

He didn’t say much as he gathered his things to head down the road for a meeting with local farmers who were gathering to talk all things planting season.

As the sun rose, and I readied our toddler to head out the door to morning chores, our local weather man was cautioning us all about concerns for localized flooding. I had been more concerned about helping move the big cow herd that morning in preparation for the blizzard and 70mph winds we were expecting later that night. It wasn’t until I drove across the bridge at Clear Creek at 8am, that I began to consider the idea that flooding would pose as much danger as a blizzard.

We hurriedly fed all the fat calves in the lot and then my dad, our ranch hand, and I began to plan for moving the cows to shelter out of the wind. As we set out to drive them from their usual calving grounds to the safety of a large shelter belt, I became startled under the falling rain. Small streams were beginning to appear. Everywhere. Those that were running downhill from melting snowpack moved quickly. As we approached a low spot that occasionally has standing water, I stopped in my tracks when I saw cows going through in water up to their bellies. Water that was rushing. I quickly grabbed a set of hobbles and put them on a new calf and threw him in my Polaris.

We pushed the cows through and as we approached our “safe grounds” noticed the sounds of Clear Creek. She was beginning to sound angry in the distance. The area where we shelter the cows during blizzards was also beginning to collect water that couldn’t flow away because the ground remained frozen.

The feed wagon we used to tease the cows out, got stuck.

Dad bailed out and waved us in.

It was at that moment, that fear crept in.

My father, ranching along Clear Creek since 1976, was worried.

We hashed our back up plans.

We began to try and execute them.

One by one, they failed.

And the water continued to rise.

The cows were getting exhausted and so were we.

The eye of the storm passed over and we knew that we had one moment of calm to enjoy before the winds turned to the north and the sun began to set.

Worry turned to some panic.

And the water rose more.

In a final desperate attempt, we went to move the cow herd one last time before the final bridge that remained above water disappeared. By then, Clear Creek had risen to level none of us had ever seen. We were cut off from the main ranch headquarters by waters rushing high enough that we could cross by tractor only. The cattle, being exhausted, were then in shock. They would not cross the bridge. Finally, we gave up and had no choice but to send them all through the raging waters for safety in a smaller shelterbelt. By the grace of God, they all made it. And so did we.

We fenced them in and put out as much hay as we were able and retreated as darkness set in.

Nothing was left to do but pray to God almighty to see our cows through the blizzard that raged the next 24 hours.

When the winds calmed and waters began to recede we took stock of our losses. We were spared much of the heartache that our fellow Nebraskans were not. Now, almost a full week later, it’s difficult to even recall all that has transpired. For as much as we are grieving and concerned, life has gone on as it always does this time of year. The appearance of new life has reminded us that hope springs eternal and that we will persevere through these times.

With the help of God and one another we will get through all of this.

Nebraska is our home and we are Nebraska Strong.”

Fifth generation rancher Karina Jones and family were hit hard by a terrible hail storm in 2017 and were just getting back on their feet, when the storm hit. This is her story.

“The National Weather Service and all local news outlets give us ample warning in the days leading up to our “Bomb Cyclone”. They talked about the moisture that would start as rain and switch over to snow and the category 2 Hurricane force winds that were expected. But, really, who has ever experienced a “Bomb Cyclone” in central Nebraska.

Although, extremely weary and tired from a brutally, record breaking cold February in which we calved all of our AI heifers, we prepared for the storm like we would any blizzard.  We fed everything up with extra hay. We made sure that everything had access to canyons which have always served as their shelters from the spring blizzards that have come in the years before.

As the rain began to fall the afternoon of Tuesday, March 12, we were starting to see the run off from these rolling hills and some water was beginning to go over low lying roads.  We thought we had everything tucked in pretty good to handle whatever the weather was going to hand us that night but as we laid sleepless in bed, our stomach in knots, we were starting to get a grasp that this storm was of a different beast.  I honestly feared that the windows were going to blow into our home. The force of the wind and the driving rain is something I will never forget.

As the sun rose on the morning of March 13, the rain let up, the wind was still fierce.  Our school called at 6:30 am and asked that we meet the bus at another location because they didn’t think they could get down our road.  I did not want to put our girls on the bus that morning, but they both had their Science Fair presentations and they were anxious about missing that.  When my husband returned from meeting the bus, my mother’s heart sank when he said, “I don’t think we will be getting the girls home today.  These roads are in too bad of shape.”  I call my mother in law, who lives along Highway 2 and she agreed she could get to Ansley and pick them up and keep them until our roads would be safe.

The rest of Wednesday was spent trying to feed cattle and accessing the health and safety of our February calves.  Surely, those pairs would be fine.  The were behind a cedar tree windbreak, with guard rail fence, not to mention they had an open front calf shed bedded down with fresh hay. We had done all we could.  But as the rain continued to fall on our completely frozen ground, the run became torrential; the dams had all they could hold.  We have 3 dams that hold water out of our corrals and lots.  They were all spilling over and running right through our corrals like a river.  Including the one dam that breached and like an arrow that water ran right to that open front shed.

We worked to try and divert the water around that shed but we just couldn’t keep up. We kept clinging to some hope that our cows were supposed to be another week off from calving and they were out on winter range and had those canyons to go to. We were hoping they were fairing far better than our first calf heifer pairs.

The rain changed to snow in the afternoon and evening hours of March 13. They said we were only supposed to get a few inches of snow. Surely, this has to be better than the driving rain. This was the blizzard we had been preparing for!  We had a barn full of goats kidding, so my husband, Marty, and I took turns through the night going back and forth to the barn to help new baby goats nurse and such.  It was the blinding, driving blizzard conditions we were all used to.

When the sun would come up on Thursday, March 14, our dig out from snow would begin. Snow had drifted as tall as the guard rail fences and right over them. The open front calf shed was now filled with snow as it had drifted in.  At noon on this day the sustained winds in Broken Bow, NE were still be clocked at 77 mph. This was now day 3 of this extreme weather phenomenon. The winds would not subside until well into that late evening.

The sun came out Friday, March 14th and we began to grasp our reality. Snow was starting to melt and we were finding dead baby calves underneath. Our cows, unfortunately, did indeed start calving during the storm. They took refuge in those canyons which have always served as their safe birthing center. They had no way to know that those canyons would turn into raging rivers. We would start seeing the how badly our fences were washed out and dams compromised. We would start seeing the sadness in the faces of our neighbors and we didn’t even have to ask. Then we would watch the news and realize that everything in Nebraska has changed and we are now a state in crisis. We are now an Ag industry in crisis.

As we continue, day by day, we are now full into the throes of calving cows. Some cows were just too stressed from what they went through. Cows that were in the prime of their life, the heart of our genetics, and optimal body condition. While we lost calves during the storm, now it is the cows we seem to be nursing after the storm. Their bodies are trying to carry a calf to full term or are lactating and that is big enough pull on a female’s body. But, the stress of the storm has just been too much for some.

I think many of us are realizing this really is just the beginning, the beginning of a lot of different stresses, rebuilding, and decisions. I am seeing operators with in a 60 miles radius of us saying they are selling out. They are not going to rebuild after these losses. Ranching has been so tough the last few years. Emotionally, most of us have been running on empty. Financially, it should be no secret that working capital has been depleted the last few years. Honestly, I think I speak for all of rural America when I say that we need the whole nation behind us as farmers and ranchers because this way of life is on the brink of extinction.”

The stories keep coming and are heartbreaking, the blizzard took a heavy toll on the 2019 calf crop in the western part of Nebraska and it will be some time before the flooded producers are able to access what they have left. The USDA has a Livestock Indemnity Program to provide assistance to eligible producers for livestock deaths in excess of normal mortality caused by adverse weather. The Nebraska Farm has launched a Disaster Relief Fund and Information Exchange Portal. The relief effort includes the fund where money raised will be given to aid Nebraska farmers, ranchers and rural communities affected by the blizzard and flooding. The Portal will give access to members requesting assistance, needing information and those looking to help. To donate or apply for funds visit their website at www.nefb.org/disaster.

Nebraska Cattlemen has also started a relief fund where 100 percent of the donations will be distributed to Nebraska cattle producers affected by natural disasters. Donations can be made online or checks can be mailed to Nebraska Cattlemen Disaster Relief Fund, 4611 Cattle Drive. Lincoln, NE 68521

If you would rather make donations of hay, feed, fencing materials, volunteer help, and equipment, or if you are seeking assistance, please call the Nebraska Department of Agriculture at 1-800-831-0550.

The Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services has established helpline for those needing counseling and information. Nebraska Family Helpline 1-800-866-8660 and Nebraska Rural Response Hotline 1-800-464-0258.

The Ag industry has been hit hard but rural America is coming to our aid. Semi loads of hay are arriving for displaced livestock, as well as donations of supplies, helping hands and a shoulder to cry on. Recovery will take years, but no one has to do it alone.

Nebraska Blizzard/Flooding Resources

NDA has put together a list of resources available to farmers and ranchers affected by severe weather.

Hay and Forage Hotline

NDA’s Hay and Forage Hotline, 402-471-4876, connects buyers with sellers of hay, pasture and other types of forage. This Hotline service is available at no cost to buyers and sellers.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) Resources

State Agency Resources

Additional Resources

PHOTOS: March Spring Storm in Midwest Causing Major, Ongoing Issues for Ranchers

Cattle try to find a place out of the wind and snow near Martin, SD. Photo by Jamie Schomp

Meteorologists have said it is like a hurricane over the plains. The March 13-14 storm has wreaked havoc on most of the plains and midwest states with rain, sleet, snow, wind, mud, flooding and freezing temperatures while many producers are in the thick of calving and lambing.

Boe Kottwitz rides through the creek after checking cows on the Rennard Ranch near Lusk, Wyoming. Photo by Savanna Simmons

Amanda Radke: “At our place near Mitchell, S.D., it was freezing rain all day March 13, and March 14 brought more snow, wind and white-out conditions. The real challenge is going to be in the days to come. With warmer weather expected in the 10-day forecast, my fear is when all of this snow melts, the flooding will be catastrophic for many. The timing of this storm coincides with calving season, and the conditions have made for a difficult 48 hours so far.”

Cattle are ready for the sunshine. Photo by Jamie Schomp near Martin, SD

Photo by Savanna Simmons

Cauy Pennington standing on a drift behind the calving barn. Abbott Ranch, Kiowa, Colorado. Photo courtesy Pennington family

Edwin Vavra from Milligan, Neb., moving cattle out of floodwaters. The cows were moved to safety on higher ground. Edwin is the fourth generation to live on his farm which borders Turkey Creek. Edwin has lived in the same house all 76 years of his life. Photo by Beth Vavra

Near Casper, Wyoming. Photo by Jennifer DeFreece Rodgers, Barbed Wire Photography

Near Casper, Wyoming. Photo by Jennifer DeFreece Rodgers, Barbed Wire Photography

Photo by Tina Palmer

“Need bigger calf shelters! Digging calves out at Selby, SD.” Photo by Lazy TV Ranch

Near Pierre, SD. Photo by Therese Volmer

“Some of our bulls braving it at Vaad Ranch Oacoma – a lull in the wind so they came out for breakfast.” Photo by Loaun Vaad

Photo by Jamie Schomp

Photo by Jamie Schomp

Photo by Dustin Buffington


Dale Vocu with Three Mile Creek Rodeo Co. shared a video of hand-digging stock out of snow near Kyle, South Dakota. Vocu says they were able to get both animals out.

Lice in cattle problem with few solutions

As North Dakota’s winter wears on, many ranchers are faced with a continual lice infestation in their herd even though they have treated their cattle.

Some producers have treated more than once and still are seeing the effects of lice in their livestock.

“We are experiencing lice populations that are apparently much more difficult to control than previously,” says Gerald Stokka, North Dakota State University Extension veterinarian. “We cannot be sure as to the reason for reduced lice control, but the possibility of resistance to our control products is certainly on the minds of our veterinary practitioners.”

Lice Species Common in U.S.

Five species of lice commonly are found in the U.S., with certain regions of the country seeing variation in the species present. The common species are categorized as sucking (pierce skin and suck blood) or biting (feed on skin debris).

Sucking lice include the short-nosed cattle louse, long-nosed cattle louse and little blue louse. The most common biting louse is the red louse, also known as the cattle-chewing louse.

Lice infestations increase during cold weather and subside during warm weather in response to the increased surface temperature of their host. Although most cattle become louse-free in the summer months, carrier animals (about 1 to 2 percent) remain infected and serve as a source of re-infestation during fall and winter months.

Lice essentially spend their entire life on the animal and cannot survive off the host for more than a few days, according to Stokka. The life cycle of lice on cattle varies from three to six weeks.

Transmission generally requires animal-to-animal contact. However, lice have been shown to grasp the legs of horn flies or houseflies and take a trip to another animal.

Diagnosing a Lice Infestation

Determining a lice infestation in cattle generally is an easy diagnosis for veterinarians and many producers. One indication of a lice problem is cattle that appear to have itchy skin.

Another sign is characteristic hair loss patterns in the neck, across the shoulders and withers, and in the udder area. Some hair loss may be significant enough to result in frostbite to hairless areas, especially during extended cold winter weather.

However, light infestations are easy to overlook when examining animals individually unless the veterinarian or producer does a careful inspection, Stokka says. A detailed exam starts with looking for nits, then exploring for lice by carefully parting the hair.

“A systematic and defined approach to the examination of cattle for the presence of lice will enable the examiner a higher level of confidence in attaining accurate results,” Stokka adds.

Lice Control

The pioneer avermectin (macrocyclic lactone) products such as Ivermectin and Dectomax have been used extensively to control lice because of their effectiveness. With the development of the systemic “pour on” products, along with generic products, the use increased and, in some cases, these products have been used multiple times per year.

These products are absorbed through the hair follicles, so dirt and other foreign material on the backs of cattle will limit absorption. Other control products are strictly topical with no absorption.

“So whether we are dealing with resistance in lice or less efficacy at the appropriate dose, the result is the same: a lack of adequate control,” Stokka says.

Here are a few options to help curb lice outbreaks:

Leave the lice alone. In many case, the best solution may be to let the cattle itch for a while. Lice populations will begin to decrease in activity rapidly as the weather warms.

Treat only those animals showing clinical signs of itching and hair loss. Some animals may be more sensitive to the effects of lice infestations, while others can handle some lice with natural resistance.

Determine the type of lice causing the infestation and use the correct control methods for that type. For example, sucking lice feed on blood and serum from the animal. These lice are controlled more effectively with a systemic injectable product. In contrast, biting lice feed on the dander and scurf on the skin. They are controlled more effectively with a topical treatment.

Use an injectable and topical treatment to control both types of lice. However, no licensed products are labeled to be used concurrently.

“When looking at topical treatments to treat biting lice, it maybe in your best interest to look for name-brand products and to use one with a higher-volume dosage,” Stokka says. “Biting lice will be controlled more effectively by the parasiticide if they come in contact with it. Thus, the higher-dosage products will give you more coverage on the animal and more area for the lice to come in contact with the product.”

For more information on controlling lice, contact your veterinarian or the NDSU Extension office in your county.

–NDSU Extension

Adding value to corn through cattle

What is the “best” way to evaluate profitability of an enterprise, more specifically feeding cattle? The most common approach is to look at the enterprise through an accounting lens; value of cattle sold minus the purchase price and total feeding costs equals profit or loss.

That approach works well to evaluate returns on a pen basis or to examine the impact of marketing or production decisions. However, most cattle feeders in South Dakota and the Upper Midwest also grow corn and use feedlot cattle to add value to home-raised feeds. In those cases what is the best way to evaluate how cattle feeding fits into the entire farming business?

Dr. Alfredo DiCostanzo presented some interesting data on how cattle feeding fits into an integrated crop-livestock operation at the 2018 Northern States Beef Conference held in Watertown, SD in December 2018. Using historical closeouts from an industry database, he determined the net value of corn grain as cattle feed. He derived that value by subtracting all non-corn costs from cattle sales and added back the net value of cattle manure to meet phosphorus needs. He then compared those values on a corn feed value per acre basis to the FINBIN (Center for Farm Financial Management, Univ. of MN) return over direct costs for corn production on owned land.

The net returns for the two different scenarios over the last 19 years are shown in Figure 1. Over that period the average return over direct costs per acre for corn marketed through cattle was $173 compared to $108 for cash corn. Those values do not include any efficiencies that might be gained by early harvest of high moisture corn, reduced drying costs, or reduced handling/shrink of the corn crop.

A line graph depecting Return Over Direct Costs for Cash Corn and Corn Fed to Cattle. Contact Warren Rusche at 605-688-5452 for more information.

Figure 1. Return Over Direct Costs for Cash Corn and Corn Fed to Cattle. Courtesy: Dr. Alfredo DiCostanzo, University of Minnesota

One of the most striking features from this graph is that marketing corn through cattle results in returns that are greater over time but also more variable. Adding a feedlot enterprise increases the exposure to cattle market risk and weather risks outside the normal growing season. Including mechanisms to mitigate the downside risk either through risk management tools or by simply having more working capital available is critical to avoid crippling financial losses.

Another factor to keep in mind that while it is very easy to look at a chart and pick out the years where feeding cattle was highly profitable and the years where it made more sense to simply sell corn, it is much more difficult to do so in real-time. Jumping in and out with the idea of timing the market could easily result in missing the highs but still hitting unexpected lows. Taking the long view increases the probability of success over many years.

A portion of the added returns from feeding cattle comes from the cattle manure used to reduce the direct costs of growing corn. This is one of the key reasons that integrations of crops and livestock can work so well together. To optimize returns we can’t treat livestock manure as a waste product, but rather as a valuable resource. Calibrated applications based on accurate manure and soil sampling data as part of a management plan will win compared to a strategy of spreading on the most convenient fields.

Finally, there needs to be an honest assessment of management ability and available resources to determine the right enterprise mix. Many operations could benefit from diversification and integrating livestock and crops, but not all. These values are based on averages from two different databases and if the livestock or crops segment of the farm can’t both be average or better, the wiser course of action might be to specialize in where there is the best match between strengths and opportunities.

–SDSU Extension