It’s another Snow Day – schools and some businesses are closed and snow plows are working round the clock. For livestock farmers there are no snow days, it’s just another day of braving the elements to ensure the safety of their farm animals. Farm animals have the ability to withstand the cold, frigid weather with some help from their caregivers. In the winter, producers pay special attention to providing the essentials of feed, water and shelter and checking on the livestock throughout the day.
“For cattle, it’s important to keep them out of the wind and keep them dry,” said Kent Wesson, cattle feeder from Leland. Wesson uses open lots for feeding his cattle and barns for shelter. His biggest issue with the sub-zero temperatures is “keeping the cattles’ water from freezing and removing snow from the feed bunks.”
Another winter obstacle is moving snow around the farmstead in order to reach the feedlots. “Some days it takes hours to move the snow away so I can get the feed truck in to feed the cattle,” he said. In the 60 years that Wesson has been raising beef cattle, he’s never lost a steer in the wintertime due to the cold weather. “Cattle are insulated with their hair and their hide,” explained Wesson. “With a heavy, winter coat they can withstand cold temperatures.” Yet Wesson knows that he has to make some adjustments to his management in order to protect the cattle from the brutal weather. For cattle to maintain an adequate body temperature, energy demands for cattle increase in the winter and therefore he boosts the nutritional value and amount of feed.
He also provides extra cornstalk bedding to keep them dry in the cattle barns and the barns provide protection from the winds. Additionally, Wesson removes the manure from the lots and barns when conditions permit. Wesson buys calves from a West Virginia producer and has them shipped to his farm at 700 pounds. Then, he feeds them to a finished market weight of about 1,200 pounds. He sells and ships the cattle to Aurora Packing Company or Iowa Beef Processors/Tyson in Joslin, Iowa for processing.
“Prime and choice quality meat is what I aim for,” Wesson said. The cattle feeder has seen several changes in the beef marketing system over the years but now embraces the newer grid system that returns premiums to farmers that produce top quality meat. Another market for his cattle is the local meat locker and selling direct to customers. He gets repeat business based on the quality of meat he produces.
Wesson enjoys raising beef even in frigid weather. “It’s a lifestyle. I make my living doing it and providing for my family,” he said. His son, Doug, helps him feed cattle and notes that his young grandkids also seem to take a liking to the cattle. Kent proudly states, “They may be the 7th generation of beef producers in the Wesson family.” Miller raises beef cows and calves.
A few miles outside of Sycamore there are some cow-calf herds. Driving by you would hardly know it because during the blustery winter the beef animals have spent more time in the barns than being outside. Grant Miller, a young beef producer, enjoys raising cattle even when it gets unbearably cold. “To keep the calves protected from the elements I make sure they have extra bedding, water, and feed, plus salt and minerals,” he said.
As for the cows he checks them a couple of times each day to replenish their hay. For both the cows and calves he chips away at the ice in the water tanks to ensure the bovines have access to water. Miller’s enjoyment with beef stems from first raising a bucket calf in the Cattlemen’s Association’s program and then raising steers to show at the 4-H fair. His interest heightened when he worked for a local feedlot producer.
“I’ve learned about beef production through experience,” Miller said. “Being around farmers who have had many years of feeding and caring for cattle has helped me tremendously.” Coursework at Blackhawk College furthered his ability as a livestock farmer with beef science, animal health and nutrition classes and being a member of the livestock judging team. He also credits his livestock background to several generations of the Miller family, who have raised various types of livestock and been employed in the profession. On a regular basis, Grant’s brother, Maxx, helps him with the cow-calf herd. The cows are bred once a year and their calves will be raised and then sold as feeder calves to local producers or be taken to the sale barn and sold.
Eventually, Miller would like to expand the size of his cow-calf herd, from 10 to 30. His fiancé enjoys the beef herd as much as he does so they are making plans for the future. The winter means extra work for Miller in moving snow to get feed to the cattle and also moving snow for the City of Sycamore. Miller is employed full-time for the city’s wastewater treatment plant and then after hours tends to his cows and calves.