Producers evaluate six months after blizzard
Last year was memorable for cattle producers, though it may be a year they’d rather forget. Snowstorms in April set the record for the most snow received in Western South Dakota since 1927. The blizzard in October broke that record. Now, nearly two weeks into spring with the snow still falling, producers are ready for some sunshine.
“Producers are reacting to the weather this spring the same as most springs,” said Dr. Vicki Cook, a veterinarian from Rapid City. “It’s been a long winter, because it started the first week in October. But as far as winter storms this time of year, producers have a game plan.”
“We’re a little more conservative than we have been,” said Larry Stomprud, a cow-calf producer from Mud Butte, S.D. who lost about 30 percent of his cattle last fall.
“We were really prepared for the storm we had earlier this week. It didn’t turn out to be much of a blizzard, but we were prepared. We look at things a little different now. We’ll sure look at cold rains in the fall a lot different than we used to,” Stomprud said.
Vaughn Meyer, who operates SoDak Angus, southwest of Reva, S.D. was in the middle of fall calving when the blizzard hit last October. He figures his cattle fared better than many of his neighbors, partly because of luck and location, but partly because the cattle weren’t still nursing 500-pound calves. “I think those spring calves had the cows sucked down a little more,” Meyer said.
The effects of the storm on the calves that were born just before and during the blizzard didn’t go away when the snow melted, though. “About Thanksgiving the calves started getting sick,” Meyer said. “We vaccinated them all at least twice, but every time we’d get cold weather they’d start to get sick. Our total death loss this year was way higher than normal. We usually make it through with close to 100 percent, or even above, with twins, but this year we’re looking at between 80 and 85 percent.”
There was some speculation about long-term effects the October blizzard may have had on the spring-calving cows and their calves, but producers and veterinarians aren’t seeing anything unusual that could be attributed to the additional stress.
“Calving season has gone pretty smoothly so far. We’ve seen some small calves, and we’ve lost a few calves for one reason or another, but there’s nothing I can say is a result of the blizzard. It’s nothing that we don’t see every other year,“ Stomprud said.
Dr. James Myers, of Belle Fourche Veterinary Clinic, said there may be stress-related issues, but nothing that can be directly tied to the blizzard. “The cattle that survived were extremely stressed. The dam being stressed has an effect on the fetus. The dam will recover from the stressed condition, but there may be some remaining effects on the fetus. We’ve seen some unusual things this calving season, but we always see a few unusual things. It’s hard to quantify that kind of thing,” Myers said.
Cook said she’s getting fewer emergency calving calls this spring because of the reduced cattle numbers. “I normally get two to three calls a day this time of year. Last week I had three calving-related calls.”
Regardless of what calving season brings, Myers emphasizes the importance of evaluating each situation individually and dealing with the conditions as soon as they arise.
“If we saw another blizzard this spring like the one in October it would be disastrous,” Myers said. “Baby calves are more susceptible to the weather than five-weight calves. Right now the cows are in better shelter, have their winter hair and are on feed, but they’ve gone through six months of winter, have calved and are lactating, in many cases. In October they were in better shape, just coming off grass, but they didn’t have their winter hair.” The upshot is that no matter when a blizzard happens, it could have catastrophic effects. “We’ve had a lot of spring storms over the years, they’re not good,” Myers said. “But producers in this area are pretty experienced. They know how to handle their cattle and the weather like we’re having this spring,” Myers said.