by Julie Cushine-Rigg
Call it a bomb cyclone, bombogenesis or whatever you want. The point is, we’ve had some record breaking and just bone-chilling cold weather lately across much of the eastern United States. While we’ve experienced some double-digit numbers, single and below single degree weather makes for some slow going on farms and everywhere else.
“Once it gets down to these temperatures, the animals need about 30 percent more feed just to stay warm… they need to get more energy into them. When you get down to 0 with a wind-chill of -25, you need to have some form of energy feed… corn silage, corn grain, corn gluten. Anything corn related,” said Thomas Gallagher of Cornell Cooperative Extension’s office in Albany County of the recent cold snap. He also said if there is no access to corn, grain will work even though it has added protein that may not be needed.
About water issues in the record-breaking cold, Gallagher said most systems tend to do okay (i.e., heated hydrants). However, issues arise when farms rely on ponds and open water.
“You can’t just fill up a water tub in this weather, it’ll freeze in an hour,” Gallagher said and added that alternative water sources include bringing the animals into the barn or tapping a hole into frozen water where there’s running water underneath, or, in cases like getting water to sheep, they eat the snow and get plenty of water that way.
“Cornell did a research project a few years ago where we put sheep out in the field and stockpiled grass and let it grow late in the fall. Sheep had water tubs out there in about six to eight inches of snow and the sheep did not drink any water for an entire week. They just ate the snow,” Gallagher said. He added that because of the lack of snow in the region, which usually acts as an insulator to underground water lines, many of them may freeze up if not maintained properly.
Another issue with the cold that Gallagher is aware of from phone calls he’s gotten is manure scrapers freezing up. He said farmers are scraping what they can — but because it’s frozen, it is not falling through the slots in the floor and it’s having to be pushed out with other equipment like bucket loaders.
Mike and Mark Stanton of Stanton’s Dairy Farm in Coeymans Hollow, NY have found a temporary solution to their farm’s manure freezing problem by pushing it out of the barn into a pile for thawing later when the temperatures rise.
“Manure is a big problem…it’s just starting to pile up now where we now have to get an excavator in there and push it away and keep pushing into the pits,” said Mike Stanton.
The Stantons were proactive ahead of the cold snap by cutting fuel about a month ahead of it to avoid the fuel gelling up.
“In the shop, we haven’t done as many projects. We usually have a lot of projects, but we’re trying to keep the shop open for [any] breakdowns and getting the machinery inside for a few nights a week for it to thaw out. It really hurts the productivity on the farm,” Mike Stanton said.
Megan Terrell is the young-stock manager at Stanton’s and she said the calves were bedded every day during the week of Jan. 1 through Jan. 6, so that they had enough to nest in and keep them warm.
“It even affects everybody’s morale…everything’s slower. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just cold,” said Mike Stanton. He added that employees took more breaks from the cold to warm up and some days they were sent home early because of the weather.
As far as the dry-matter feed needed for the herd at his farm, Stanton said it was up about one percent.
“You don’t necessarily see that in production… they just need that to keep warm. … Cows are a lot like people, we hate change. It’s a pretty simple thing. When the change keeps doing this, it’s very stressful,” he said.
Kevin Jablonski from Mack Brook Farm in Argyle, NY said they’re fortunate not to have many issues with the cold other than making sure watering holes are open.
“Heaters (for water tanks, tractors, utility room, etc.) are plugged in or have fuel in them, and the animals have good quality feed (high TDN Total Digestible Nutrients). I tend to check on them more frequently. They use the woods for shelter and wind break and I walk through there to see how calm it is,” Jablonski said.
Tom Foster of Foster Sheep Farm in Schuylerville, NY said he agrees with the overall slowing down of everything in the cold, but as of Jan. 5, they had been faring pretty well.
“We haven’t started lambing yet, that will happen in the early part of February for them, and as long as the weather breaks before then they’ll be fine. All pregnant ewes are in an enclosed barn. As long as we keep plenty of feed going to them, they don’t seem to mind this weather,” said Foster.
Foster said they currently have five yearling animals on the farm and all are fine right now.
“The only problem is keeping water going. They have electric waterers inside… Everything seems to take a little longer when it’s this cold… tractors don’t start quite as well. A little bit warmer weather would be real nice,” said Foster.
Everything is just slower. Equipment, animals, people.
“It’s raising havoc with everything,” Gallagher said of the cold.
Hopefully soon we’ll all be warming up a bit and getting back to more seasonable temperatures. Likely, just in time to be proactive for the next round of single digit degrees.