Opinion by John GriffithWritten by John Griffith
John Griffith, Warning Coordination Meteorologist, NWS
Nationally, approximately 95,000 calves die each year due to cold stress resulting in an estimated $38 million loss to producers. In discussions between ranchers and the National Weather Service (NWS) office in Glasgow, Mont. there was considerable interest from local ranchers in the possibility of a NWS product specific to the effect of cold weather on newborn livestock. One rancher stated, “Calves are our saleable product, so no calves, no sales, no income.”
During the critical weeks of calving, generally mid-January to mid-April in the high plains, ranchers heavily depend upon advanced warning of extreme cold in order to move livestock to more sheltered areas and minimize mortality rates of newborn calves, specifically those less than 24-hours old because these calves are least able to regulate their body temperature. Improvement in the advanced warning of potentially hazardous conditions will enable producers to more effectively implement life-saving measures to minimize losses.
The research that went into this Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock (CANL) system was developed with a partnership between NWS Glasgow and the University of Miami. As the study evolved, it was shown this CANL system would work for all newborn livestock and was expanded from calves to include all newborn livestock. It also works for all areas of the country because newborn livestock are not acclimated prior to being born. The purpose of this product is to provide users with a decision support tool that could help reduce newborn livestock losses due to hazardous weather.
The CANL is presented using graphics that show the risk of cold exposure to newborn livestock. The risk is related to wind chill temperature, precipitation and humidity. The bio-thermal responses of newborn livestock are not acclimated to the environment they are born into, and until they are dried off and warmed up, there is increased risk for them to succumb to weather.
Research and discussion with the ranching community show the key elements they are worried about is wind chill, accumulating precipitation and the ability for the animal to dry off, or the presence sun versus clouds. The categories range from “none,” when there is no risk, to “extreme,” for rare and particularly dangerous situations.
This will be the second year that the National Weather Service in Cheyenne will be providing this product. At this time, the CANL is considered an experimental product by the NWS and not all offices provide this service. In the winter of 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 it was used at five NWS offices across the High Plains. While reviewing the recent 2010 USDA livestock loss report, which is compiled every five years, the overwhelming losses of livestock due to weather, both heat and cold, came to light.
Looking at the 2010 report, across the entire U.S., cattle and calf losses totaled 13 percent of all non-predator losses, or a total of 489,000 livestock at a value of $274.1 million.
Cattle deaths generally occur in both heat and cold, but newborn livestock typically are born in the late winter and spring, bringing the threat of wind chill and precipitation that can kill them.
Weather also indirectly leads to losses by exacerbating respiratory problems and calving problems. Respiratory problems made up 28 percent of those losses, or 1.1 million calves, for a total of $643 million dollars, and calving problems makes up another 13.1 percent of losses, totaling another $274.6 million dollars.
The weather is the number one non-predatory loss of calves in Alabama, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, South Dakota, West Virginia and Wyoming. In another six states, weather was listed as the second highest cause of non-predatory deaths.
Looking at other livestock, the 2010 USDA data for sheep and lambs for the entire U.S. was also reviewed. The majority of non-predator losses, 21 percent, were due to weather, totaling, 81,333 sheep and lambs at a value of over $13 million.
South Dakota led the nation in losses with 6,600 sheep and 19,000 lambs lost due to weather. In addition to South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wyoming, were in the top 10 states for the number of lamb losses due to weather.
The Cold Advisory for Newborn Livestock forecast is available at crh.noaa.gov/cys/?n=canl.