LOGAN, Utah (AP) — On Jan. 11, 2000, a windstorm blew through Blacksmith Fork Canyon and Mike Clawson lost half his herd of dairy cows in one night.
The cows didn't die, said Clawson of Clawson and Sons Dairy in Hyrum, but they were damaged beyond repair. The icy wind caused more than 100 cows' teats to freeze. Once this happens, scabs form, and milk can no longer be extracted.
Because of the incident 13 years ago, the Clawsons have taken extra precautions to protect their cows from cold temperatures and wind. This winter, farmers and ranchers throughout Cache Valley have had to face the challenge of caring for their livestock in sub-zero temperatures.
So how cold is too cold?
Lane Parker, who owns Logan River Ranch and the Smithfield Livestock Auction, said when the temperature drops to around zero degrees and stays there for an extended period of time, it can cause serious problems for farmers and ranchers.
Terry Simmonds, of Simmonds Dairy in Lewiston, said he and his son are extra careful any time the temperature dips below 20 degrees.
Cows have thick hides and grow a long, thick coat of hair in the winter, so they can survive very cold temperatures. Simmonds said he thinks his cows actually do better during the winter than in the summer, when they suffer from the heat.
"They don't thrive, but they don't mind the cold."
While every farmer uses different methods to care for their herds, the most important way to protect cows is to make sure they have plenty of food and water and dry bedding. Cows need more calories in order to stay warm in the winter months, so farmers need to be prepared to feed more.
"The only way a calf or a cow can keep warm is by eating," Simmonds said, so he feeds his cows as much hay as they want to eat.
Water is also important, Simmonds said, so he uses heating elements in each trough to keep the water from freezing.
Since Clawson lives in such a windy area, he's erected machine sheds that he can empty at a moment's notice. When a windstorm comes along, Clawson herds his cows into the sheds. He's had to do this twice since the big storm in 2000 and hasn't lost any cows to the cold.
Clawson is also careful not to leave the cows' teats wet after milking in freezing weather. Dairy farmers dip each teat into a sanitizing liquid before and after each milking, but during the winter, Clawson uses a powder post-dip made by Silicone Plastics in Millville. This helps to kill bacteria and remove moisture. Simmonds doesn't use a dry dip but stops using a liquid post dip when the temperature drops below freezing.
Calves are especially vulnerable in cold weather.
Simmonds and Clawson both said they try to breed their cows strategically, so fewer calves are born in the winter months. When calves are born, Simmonds said, it's important to get them warm and dry quickly so that they don't freeze to death.
"We figure, if we're not out there within an hour, hopefully 45 minutes, that calf is not going to survive," he said.
Simmonds is careful to observe the signs of imminent calving, then move pregnant cows to maternity pens. Simmonds and his son, Jordan Simmonds, take turns checking on the cow each hour. Once the calf is born, it's moved to the "nursery" — an old milking barn that's been retrofitted with calf pens and heating lamps. The nursery is kept at 55 degrees, and calves stay there for a few weeks.
For calves outside, Simmonds and Clawson use special calf coats to help them stay warm. Simmonds uses milk replacer, and increases the concentration by 50 percent whenever the temperature dips below 20 degrees.
Whenever the weather shifts from cold to warm, Clawson said, it's important to change the bedding. Damp straw creates a moist atmosphere — ideal conditions for a pneumonia outbreak.
Illness is a problem that arises when the weather shifts rapidly, Parker said.
"If it's cold, farmers and ranchers want it to stay cold."
Still, Simmonds takes the temperature of any calf that coughs, just to be sure they aren't sick. He also watches the calves carefully for signs of scours — a problem that can kill a calf within 24-36 hours.
Winter ends eventually, and if they're careful, farmers and ranchers can make it through without too much harm done.
"The big thing is be prepared, kind of like a boy scout," Simmonds said. "But ... sometimes it doesn't even help if you're prepared, because the unknown happens."
Information from: The Herald Journal, http://www.hjnews.com