Dale Lanham has felt the impact of the recent near-record low temperatures. Not only is he the Livestock Agent for the K-State Extension Southwind District, he is also a rancher. On Monday night, he lost a pair of baby lambs to the frigid conditions, but Lanham was able to save two other young lambs.
Lanham said area farmers he’s spoken with are extremely concerned.
“They’re losing a lot of sleep, and checking on (their livestock) a lot more often than normal,” he said, adding that it’s still calving season. “They are putting calves in their houses, garages, back porches, bathrooms or wherever — trying to warm them up.”
Depending on how long certain livestock have been exposed to the sub-freezing environment, warming them up indoors may not be enough. It requires an extended duration of time to get their body temperatures where they need to be, Lanham said.
“The body temperature of a baby lamb or calf ought to be over 100 degrees,” he said.
Lanham said his livestock has endured bad winters before, but that he’s never witnessed anything quite as extreme as this week’s weather.
“Not sustained for this long,” he said, as area temperatures dipped as low as -22 degrees Monday night. “This has been really, really serious.”
Calves’ ability to obtain warm milk is one key to survival.
“What happens is, when they’re really cold they don’t want to get up as fast and nurse,” Lanham said.
He advised area farmers to take major precautions while venturing out in the bitter conditions.
“It’s their livelihood they’re trying to save out there,” he said, “but at the same time you have to remember, it’s your life, too.”
Bob Swiler, rural Neosho County, said it’s been a struggle to keep his calves alive, having lost three newborn calves in one day.
Swiler said he had been bringing up to 10 calves into his home at a time, to dry them off and warm them up, with an emphasis on drying them off. Swiler noted that another challenge was putting feed down for his cattle, as the diesel fuel in his tractor “gelled up” due to the sub-zero temps.
“I had two tractors and a truck all gel up in one day, and I didn’t have anything to drive for the feed,” Swiler said. “It’s been some long, tough days.”
He said the only other time he’s experienced anything remotely similar to this was 35 years ago.
“We had 10 inches of snow in 1985, and pretty damn cold weather,” he said, adding that he lost 11 calves in one night back then. “So far, I’ve been luckier than that this year.”