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Mikkel Pates, Forum News Service, Published January 17 2014

Brisk beef: Cattleman says cold is actually a blessing

WALCOTT, N.D. – It was a brisk 31 degrees below zero on Jan. 2 and then 30 below zero on Jan. 8 at Alsager Ranch in northern Richland County. But it was worse on Jan. 6, when the pickup truck thermometer said 24 below.

“The wind,” says Josh Alsager. “That was the worst part.”

At 33, Alsager has been in the cattle business for a decade at the rance, about 9 miles west of Walcott. The sprawling business includes a cow-calf enterprise, as well as one of the most significant cattle feeding operations on this side of the state.

This winter, Alsager and the 33 employees of the farm are spending a lot of time in the bitter cold, and with those temperatures comes extra work.

The cold requires more bedding for the animals. Cattle also eat more when it’s cold. When cattle are cold, they are putting more energy into “maintenance” than gaining muscle weight.

In North Dakota, a finishing animal gains 3.5 to 3.7 pounds per day, Alsager says. In extreme cold, they might gain only 3 pounds per day. When it’s colder, the animals tend to eat more to keep warm.

“We hope that when it warms up, we’ll see what I call a ‘compensatory gain’ up to maybe 4.25 pounds per day,” Alsager says. That’s because when it’s cold, they “stretch their belly” to stay warm, and after it warms, more of that feed goes into gain.

Lyle Spring, sales manager for Cammack Ranch Supply in Union Center, S.D., says temperatures are a bigger problem for cattle health when they fluctuate from the subzero to the 30-degree-plus range they were seeing on Jan. 9.

“Calves started on feed start to get a cough with big changes in temperatures,” he says.

Temperatures around 20 below zero are nothing new for the region, but they haven’t been seen in the past several years.

“Everybody’s getting a reality check,” Spring says.