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Record cold weather to hit Northern Plains and Midwest through March

Written by Saige

“Ongoing extreme cold accompanied with high winds will spread over the Northern Plains into early March,” according to the National Weather Service (NWS). 

Near record cold temperatures are expected along with above-average precipitation. NWS noted sub-zero temperatures are not common in March. 

Cold weather safety 

NWS stresses that those working outside, including ranchers, should take extra precaution to avoid cold-related injuries. 

NWS says, “Frostbite is damage to body tissue caused by extreme cold. A wind chill of -20 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) will cause frostbite in just 30 minutes.”

“Frostbite causes a loss of feeling and a white or pale appearance in extremities, such as fingers, toes, ear lobes or the tip of the nose,” they warn. 

NWS described hypothermia as a condition brought on when the body temperature drops to less than 95°F. 

“It can kill,” they warn. “For those who survive, there are likely to be lasting kidney, liver and pancreas problems.” 

NWS says warning signs include uncontrollable shivering, memory loss, disorientation, incoherence, slurred speech, drowsiness and apparent exhaustion. 

“If medical care is not available, warm the person slowly, starting with the body core,” says NWS. “Warming the arms and legs first drives cold blood toward the heart and can lead to heart failure.”

Livestock care

Livestock are also susceptible to impacts from extremely cold temperatures.

“Throughout this event, continue to monitor livestock health, feed and water availability,” according to NWS. “Livestock will have increased energy needs in extreme cold.” 

They note calving cows and new calves are at the largest risk in extreme cold. It is suggested ranchers keep records of any deaths during this event to file for appropriate compensation through a Livestock Indemnity Program. 

“Producers should closely monitor water sources,” says NWS. “Under extreme cold, water can freeze very quickly and limit access.” 

“The wind can often be the biggest issue for cattle, especially new calves,” NWS said. “Windbreaks throughout the pasture can minimize the risk of injury or death during extreme weather conditions.” 

Prevention

“Prevention is the key in dealing with hypothermia, frostbite and other cold weather-related injuries,” according to NWS. 

They note the signs of injury, such as frostbite, may not become evident for up to two weeks. Ranchers should look for early signs of disease and injury and understand these injuries often occur with very young animals or previously injured or debilitated animals. 

Cold stressed calves

According to Glenn Selk from Oklahoma State University Extension, changing feeding times can encourage cows and heifers to calve in the daylight. 

“Utilizing calculated feeding times can prevent a good majority of the herd from calving in the middle of the night,” he says. “But ranchers will inevitably have cattle who still calve in the middle of the coldest night of the winter.” 

He explains the Canadians conducted research to determine the most effective way to warm up cold-stressed or hypothermic calves. The study included utilizing blankets, heat lamps, room temperature and warm water. 

“The study found the calves submerged in warm water, about 100 degrees, were warmed up a half hour faster than calves warmed under the other methods,” according to Selk. “When the calves are rewarmed quickly, they present more energy and are more willing to find their mothers and nurse.” 

He notes it is vitally important for calves to nurse as soon as possible to receive adequate colostrum from the mother. 

“Ranchers who want to use this method for extreme cold-stressed calves should have an old bathtub or large tub on hand,” he says. “Fill the tub up enough to cover the calf’s body.” 

Selk notes the calf should be completely dried off before returning outside to its mother. 

“We want the calves to be able to be warmed as quickly as possible so they can begin the bonding process,” Selk comments.

Callie Hanson is the assistant editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.