Myth: Farmers and ranchers leave their cattle to fend for themselves in frigid winter conditions, such as the polar vortex.
The Facts: Winter is tough on all of us – people, cattle, dogs, cats – every living thing is struggling to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures that the polar vortex has caused across the nation. And while it may be easy to bring in your pets at night to make sure they don’t freeze, farmers and ranchers can’t bring the whole herd into their living room!
However, there are several steps farmers and ranchers take to ensure the best care possible for their livestock. For example, during extreme cold, such as the current polar vortex, farmers will increase the amount of feed that cattle receive in order to boost their metabolism and help produce body heat. Additionally, many farmers will bring in as many cattle as possible to their barns and provide lots of dry bedding. For those cattle that aren’t in the barn, wind breaks are set up in pastures so that cattle can escape from the frosty gusts. Wind breaks can be fences, bales of hay or anything that slows down the speed of the wind.
Fresh water availability is critical to livestock, so some ranchers install water tank heaters to keep fresh water available, and not frozen, at all times. If tanks aren’t equipped with heaters, ranchers will break through the ice in water tanks multiple times per day. These actions are especially important during winter storms, or conditions like the polar vortex, when decreased water intake paired with increased feed intake can lead to health problems for cattle. Although farmers and ranchers do their best to keep cattle warm and comfortable, the reality is that when the temperature drops below 0°F, as was seen during the polar vortex, it’s difficult to guarantee warmth. However, cattle are naturally equipped with tools to help keep them warm. For example, when winter starts to set in cattle develop thicker hair coats to insulate their bodies against snow and wind. Furthermore, cattle will huddle together to conserve heat and insulate the herd. These natural instincts prevent the animal’s internal body temperature from dropping to hypothermic levels. Unfortunately, when unseasonably cold weather strikes early, as was the case in 2013 with winter storm Atlas, cattle may not have developed their winter coat and it can be difficult for farmers and ranchers to get to their cattle in remote pastures to provide extra feed. That early storm, combined with rain followed by snow and high winds, created an extreme situation that could not be avoided even by the most seasoned cowboy. The efforts of farmers and ranchers, combined with the natural instincts of cattle, keep cattle protected during cold spells such as the polar vortex. You can be confident that America’s farmers and ranchers are doing their very best to ensure the highest possible care for their cattle and livestock.