They Can’t Take It Off…

As part of my NPDES permit issued through the Environmental Protection Agency, I keep daily weather records at the feed yard. I record precipitation, daily high and low temperatures, wind speed and wind direction. In addition to fulfilling my government regulation responsibilities, my favorite farmer uses the weather data during the crop growing season to help him manage irrigation on the farm.

As I reviewed the weather data entered for the last three weeks, I gave thanks that cattle are very resilient creatures. The highest temperature during the 21 day period was 70 degrees and the lowest 4 below zero (-4). In fact, our farm saw seven days from January 23-February 13 marked by more than a 40 degree temperature swing. The record for the period was a low of -4 followed by a high of 61 degrees the next day. We also had two significant winter storms during those three weeks.

While humans view the respite from winter on a beautiful sunny February afternoon a blessing, my cattle suffer from it. Quite simply, we all take our coats off when the weather warms – Cattle don’t have that luxury.


They can’t take it off…

“Shirt sleeve” weather for a bovine is 55 degrees. In Nebraska during the winter, cattle put on heavy coats to protect them from the cold. Instead of shirt sleeves, they spend the winter in a down jacket. As seasons change, cattle acclimate to the resulting changing weather at the rate of approximately 1 degree per day. Using that model, it would take approximately 65 days to acclimate from -4 to 61 degrees. February 5th, Mother Nature asked my animals to do that in 12 hours.

They can handle the cold — They can handle the heat — But the extremes in temperature swings bring significant challenges for them.


When cattle struggle with weather stress, they are more fragile. We place them on a special ration (bovine food casserole) that is easier to digest, make sure that an ample supply of fresh (not frozen!) drinking water is available, and work extra hard to make home pen conditions comfortable for them.

Good care requires an attention to detail, and times of weather challenge make me especially proud of my crew as we work diligently always placing the cattle’s welfare as our top priority.


Filed under Animal Welfare, General

11 responses to “They Can’t Take It Off…

  1. Great post and insight, Anne.

  2. Bobbi

    It has indeed been a crazy weather pattern so far this year. It has made calving heifers interesting. Last year our 1st calf was born on the coldest day of the year I believe it was -25 with the wind chill. So mom and baby were tucked up in the barn for warmth. This year our 1st calf was born on the hottest day of the year and again they were in the barn but this time it was for shade to help keep momma cool while she worked hard to deliver baby!!!

    • It is amazing how drastic the Nebraska weather is — I’ve been here almost 18 years now and it still never ceases to amaze me. When I used to live in the city, I never paid any attention to the weather — now it pretty much rules my life!

      Good luck calving.

  3. Carol Bauer

    Would they benefit from shady areas?

    • Good thought, Carol. We move our shades out of the pens in the fall because they worsen pen conditions during the winter months (cause snow drifting problems), and also make it hard to clean the manure out of the pens and impede pen dirt drying. I have thought about putting them back in for the very reason that you suggest, but have decided that I need to wait another month or so to ensure optimal home pen conditions as we move into spring. It is a trade off. The good thing about 60 degrees in February is that it does not last very long (only a couple of hours) so the cattle recover quickly from the heat. I just wish that it wasn’t pooled together with -4 as that extreme shift back to cold is awfully hard on them.

      Great thought — thanks for sharing.


  4. theranchwifechronicles

    What an extreme! I don’t know what our temperature swing was last week but it was similar. I do know it was a brisk 9* Thursday morning when we got the bulls into pour them and it warmed to the mid 30’s by afternoon. Friday was in the 50’s. This morning it was -2* when I got up and we are in a wind advisory.

    J is constantly adjusting the ration he feeds the calves/yearlings to meet their needs during the cold and make sure they clean up their feed when it’s warm out.

    Personally, I love the days when I wake up to 20* (or more) and there is no wind. Less winter layers of clothes and warm temps makes my job more enjoyable.

    Good Luck!

    • I love 20 degrees and no wind! We are kindred spirits 🙂 There have not been many days this winter that have fallen into that category…Wind has been one of the only constants this winter.

      Good luck with calving — hope that all is well.


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