Western Kansas livestock producers prepare for extreme cold temperatures

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WILROADS GARDENS, Kan. (KSNW) – The bitter cold weather has made its way to Kansas and is pushing the livestock industry into overdrive. 

While many of us may be staying inside to escape the cold, it’s a different story for livestock operators. Instead, numerous cattle caretakers are hard at work, bearing the freezing temperatures to ensure their livelihoods stay healthy.

The cattle industry is the largest driver of revenue in agriculture, raking in nearly $8.7 billion this past year according to the Kansas Department of Agriculture.

But for many, it’s more than an industry. “It’s a lifestyle. I mean they [cattle] feed 365 days of the year. It’s our job to take care of them, and you gotta be passionate about it,” said Travis McGuire, Wilroads Feedyard Manager.

McGuire oversees a 28,000 head operation. When winter weather strikes, he says it can take a toll on cattle. The cold temperatures can lead to cold stress, a condition that causes metabolisms to race and energy requirements to soar.

“Average daily gains drop, we’ll see weight come off the cattle,” he said. “Cattle don’t gain as well, they’re stressed which means they’re not gonna grade as well. So I mean there’s just a lot of variations that impact the way the cattle are going to perform and the way they’re taken care of.”

To prevent any loss at Wilroads Feedyard, cattle, 600 lbs and under get extra bedding, pens are cleaned regularly, water tanks are checked for icing, and a mix of grain and silage is fed to the animals.

Feed surpluses are also kept on hand — should road closures and delays occur. These precautionary steps work to keep the cattle’s core body temperatures up and prevent them from losing weight.

“We can’t put these animals inside. So, making sure they’re comfortable, scraping pens, bedding down fresh calves, whatever it is to make them comfortable is what’s gonna help them get through it,” he said.

If cattle aren’t properly cared for during these extreme cold spells, frostbite, hypothermia, and even death can become a real threat.

McGuire says although the cold can be difficult, he knows it will not last forever. “I love what I do. I’m very passionate about it and you know, it’s easy to get up and get to work when you love what you do,” he said.

McGuire is one of many in the state facing similar obstacles. With the USDA reporting more than 1.4 million head of cattle in Kansas, producers are bearing in for the long haul as this winter weather is set to stick around for the near future.

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