Polar Air To Stress Cattle

As the first Polar Vortex of the season slides into the central US dumping more than a foot of snow on parts of Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, the Dakotas and Minnesota, cattle market concerns will go to how well the cattle fared with this icy blast.

Only the Southwest, Hawaii, Alaska and South Florida will escape the polar air, AccuWeather.com said.  The harshest weather will be in the northern Rockies and Plains.

Specifically for the cattle, many parts of the worst-hit areas will see temperatures drop 20 to 40 degrees in less than 24 hours.  The Northern Rockies and Northern Plains will experiences highs in the teens and even single digits with subzero lows.

That’s a pretty harsh change from weekend highs in the sixties, which many communities in the affected areas recorded.

Residents of Minneapolis, Minn., awoke to a foot of the white stuff on the ground this morning, and more was expected.  AccuWeather said forecasts call for them to shoulder through 13 straight subfreezing days starting today.

Billings, Mont., is expected to see a low temperature of minus 8 degrees, marking the coldest night since early March.

Temperatures in Rapid City, S.D., are expected to be 40 degrees below normal on Tuesday.

Oklahoma City, Okla., is expected to have its daily high drop 34 degrees from Monday to Tuesday.




Such sudden changes, especially when they are accompanied by high winds and snow, can be very hard on cattle this early in the season.

University studies have shown that cattle energy needs increase during cold weather stress.  Sudden changes in temperature and precipitation can bring on increased lung diseases, and pneumonia takes out several.

Traders and producers expect this Polar Vortex to do just that, kill off the weakest of the herd and allow the strongest to survive.

But this storm may kill more than those that already were sick or about to become sick.  Sources say the cattle this year are not quite prepared physically for a storm of this magnitude.  They have not had the seasonal decline in temperatures that toughens them for the coming winter storms, nor have they had the necessary time to grow their winter coats of hair that will add protection from icy blasts.

The thing to worry about the most is whether the cattle get wet.  Wet hair is a poor insulator, and the university studies have shown that when cattle are cold, they huddle up, move less and eat less.  This compromises their immune systems and leaves them open to illness.




The true effects of the cold stress won’t be known for days or even weeks as it often takes that long for farmers, ranchers and feedlot managers to get to the cattle or for the cattle to become ill at all.

In the meantime, the market will hang tight and assume some were lost to the storm.  Tallying the results, also is unscientific as most states do not require any totals be submitted to a central data base.  The market, then is left with anecdotal and limited reports to assess the storm damage.

Cattle futures were up Monday, and part of the gains may have been linked to fears of death and weight loss to the storm.

The USDA reported higher boxed beef prices Monday with choice up $0.03 per cwt at $249.14 and select up $1.08 at $239.15.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Friday was $241.69, up $1.15 from Thursday, above the nearby Nov contract’s Monday settlement of $238.55.