Long Winter Ahead For North Dakota Ranchers

“It’s going to be a long winter,” was how Craig Hoppe, area extension beef specialist for North Dakota State University at the Carrington Research Extension Center, summed up the winter weather so far for western cattlemen.

The combination of a 2 1/2-day blizzard Dec. 5 through 7, the first multi-day blizzard in years, which brought up to 22 inches of snow and high drifts, the 20-degrees-below-zero temperatures that followed, and the latest blizzard on Dec. 26 has the cattle reeling, Hoppe said.

The snow drifts are already high, and it’s only December, he said.  His part of the state is inundated with snow.

The cows went without food during the first storm, Hoppe said.  This always throws off their digestive systems, and it takes days or a couple of weeks for them to get back on track.

The minus-20-degree temperatures made recovery more difficult, he said.  They were just getting settled again when the latest storm hit.

North Dakota State Veterinarian Susan Keller confirmed what Hoppe said and added that North Dakota residents are dealing with snow that has not formed a crust and will blow around with every breeze.  This recloses roads and makes travel of any kind difficult.




Other cattle market and health officials said preparation was the key to North Dakota cattle getting through the winter in good shape.

The first preparation ingredient was breed.  Some breeds of cattle get through the winter better than others, and cattle with “thin skinned” reputations were not raised in the state.

The next line of defense is the food supply.  Cow/calf producers there know they will have to feed hay through the winter and so stockpile this forage ahead of time in places that make it readily available.  Many also will move the cattle to pastures that offer the producers easier access to them for feeding or whatever is needed.

That movement of cattle is more pronounced in the farms in eastern counties, the sources said.  The smaller pastures in this farming area allow producers to move their smaller herds to sheltered pastures or right up to the buildings.

Preparations usually is finalized by November, the sources said.  As a result, December’s snow and colder weather are not has hard on the cattle as they would be.




Hoppe knew of one rancher who had lost 50 cows already to the winter weather.  That sounds like a lot, and it is when they take place over a short period of time.  However, this rancher has around 1,000 head of cows, and 50 head represent only 5% of his herd.

Ranchers will lose that much through a typical winter, so that rancher has already used up his typical winter death-loss percentage, Hoppe said.

What is more important, and harder to measure, is the loss in weight gain in the calves, Hoppe and Keller said.  Hoppe said cattle would forego ¼ to ½ pound of gain per day in such harsh conditions as have been witnessed in December.




Average auction prices Wednesday were $2.71 per cwt higher at $115.39, versus $112.68 a week earlier.  Cash cattle then traded in Nebraska at $115 to $116.50 on a live basis, compared with last week’s full range of $113.25 to $116 live and $180 dressed.

The USDA’s choice cutout Wednesday was $3.30 per cwt higher at $201.84, while select was up $1.88 at $193.15.  The choice/select spread widened to $1.69 from $7.27 with 94 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Tuesday was $132.36 per cwt, down $0.04.  This compares with Wednesday’s Jan settlement of $131.72, up $1.77.