Mid-Missouri cattle ranchers prepare livestock for blizzard

Monday, January 31, 2011 | 5:56 p.m. CST; updated 8:47 p.m. CST, Monday, January 31, 2011

JEFFERSON CITY — While most Missourians seek shelter from the winter storm heading toward the state, cattle ranchers are racing to bring food and clean water to their livestock before the blizzard conditions start.

Sen. Bill Stouffer, R-Napton and a former cattle rancher, raised concerns regarding the welfare of cattle in the winter storm. He said one of the worst winter storms in memory was a 1970s snowstorm that kept ranchers away from their cattle for more than three days before they were able to bulldoze through the snowdrifts to reach them.

The executive vice president of the Missouri Cattlemen's Association, Jeff Windett, said he was confident the cattle of Missouri would survive the next few days without any adverse effects on their health. He said his confidence stemmed from a history of bad snowstorms in Missouri. Although such storms are not characteristic of the region, Windett said they have happened several times in the past few years.

Windett also noted that a herd of cattle can withstand the cold temperatures but problems are linked instead to the moisture they have to endure. According to Windett, the presence of moisture requires significantly more feed be provided to the cattle in their pastures, and the drifts that are likely to be produced by the high winds obstruct the paths ranchers need to get to their herds.

"That's why most of our producers are getting their hay sources closer to the cattle," Windett said.

In northern states, cattle ranchers tend to maintain large shelters and barns to house their cattle during intense snowstorms. Stouffer said those shelters are, for the most part, unnecessary in Missouri.

"If you're a commercial producer (of cattle in Missouri), the chances for you having shelter for your livestock is close to zero," he said. "It's not something (Missouri cattle ranchers) require."

Stouffer described the seriousness of the situation for cattle ranchers as contingent on the amount of precipitation the region receives.

"The concerns we have start off with this rain because the cattle won't have a chance to dry off," Stouffer said. "It takes a tremendous amount of feed to burn that (precipitation) off. … With the snow and the 40 mph winds, the drifts will be extremely difficult to deal with."

Windett said some ranchers are taking precautions Monday, such as getting cattle to pastures with windbreaks, transporting big bales of hay — which can last a few days — and making sure their water supply is not affected.

Stouffer said this storm is worrisome because it is one of several in quick succession.

"The first storms are not too bad on the livestock as long as they've got some shelter from the wind, but we've had one after another," Stouffer said. "The stress of the storms probably weighs on them more than a single event. It is additive."

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