Feedyards say cattle weight loss caused by blizzard is the biggest economic hit | TheFencePost.com
Rachel Spencer

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Feedyards say cattle weight loss caused by blizzard is the biggest economic hit

The numbers of cattle lost to last week's blizzard that bore down upon southeastern Colorado, southwest Kansas, and parts of Oklahoma and Texas are still being tallied. With some cattle drifting with the storm some 20 miles, the sorting continues.

Lee Reeve, co-owner of Reeve Cattle Co. in Garden City, Kan., said the storm blew through rather quickly with the lion's share of the drifts melting within a week. Reeve, the president-elect of the Kansas Livestock Association, anticipates that the hardest hits will come in the form of cattle weight losses.

After a few inches of rain, the snow began and continued throughout the night. It's difficult to estimate snowfall amounts with the drifts but Reeve said the area received around 12-15 inches and up to 30 inches in some areas. Electricity losses proved to present a host of challenges as people needed to water cattle.

As late as it was, it came in with a vengeance and left about that fast," he said. "There's probably not a tree in Garden City that doesn't have a broken branch."

“Usually a one-day event doesn’t devastate you. It’s the two and three days that get you. Even Sunday evening, once the snow quit

— remember it was so heavy and it wasn’t blowing around

— the cattle were all at the bunks eating. They were hungry.”

Reeve's feed yard lost electricity for about 24 hours, as did many of the surrounding yards and homes. A number of power poles also lay broken, forcing linemen crews to work long hours to replace them.

"The death loss was fairly light," he said. "We didn't lose a lot of cattle but we all think 20, 30, or even 40 pounds of weight during that storm."

Lighter cattle, he said, will likely regain some of the losses given the longer number of days remaining on feed prior to their end point.

"But the cattle right here in front of us that we're shipping out now, that weight's gone," he said. "Now, the offset of this is we did have a pretty good surge in the market because of that storm and a variety of other reasons. That helped keep everybody whole in the deal."

No INSURANCE FOR WEIGHT LOSS

Reeve anticipates that the majority of the cattle lost as a result of the storm were insured, making the financial blow slightly softer. However, he said, the weight is gone. Weight is the big economic loss, especially for operations like Reeve's.

"Most people are geared up to push the snow out of the way and keep the cattle fed," he said. "It doesn't devastate the cattle. Cattle are tough and they're kind of used to this."

Keeping the cattle dry and keeping them from having to lay in the mud is key to keeping respiratory problems at bay. Caring for cattle that are already compromised is more challenging than caring for cattle that are otherwise healthy prior to the storm. Getting cattle back on full feed is key to minimizing weight losses.

"Usually a one-day event doesn't devastate you," he said. "It's the two and three days that get you. Even Sunday evening, once the snow quit — remember it was so heavy and it wasn't blowing around — the cattle were all at the bunks eating. They were hungry."

The Reeve's crew did have to resort to an emergency ration that could be loaded only with the loader but once the power was restored, the feed mill was back to business as usual.

With the storm behind them, Reeve and his fellow stockmen are heading into spring with a tremendous amount of moisture.

"The good thing about the storm is it did bring lots and lots of moisture," he said.

Steve Gabel, owner of Magnum Feedyard in Wiggins, Colo., put the losses in perspective with recent prices. With fed cattle trading on May 10 at $1.38 per pound, a 1,300 pound steer is worth $1,794. Assuming an average daily gain of 3.5 pounds per head per day with a 10 percent loss in gain, a producer would lose about 50 cents per head per day in lost gain. Even so, Gabel anticipates more significant losses in gain totaling as high as $2.42 per head, per day.

"It doesn't sound like a lot but if you've got 50,000 cattle on feed and they all suffer that kind of a loss, pretty soon you're talking about some real money," he said.

According to Gabel, had the market remained flat last week and for the next five weeks, then the losses would have been easier to quantify. The loss in base price between the two weeks adds up to an approximate $95 loss.

"Something else to throw into the equation is last week we sold cattle at $1.45," Gabel said. "There's two targets there because not only is there lost animal performance but in the bigger scheme of things, you have to look at what the market has done."

If we're in a time frame in the market when prices are dropping rather than increasing, it makes that loss even more significant," he said. ❖

— Spencer is a freelance writer from Wiggins, Colo., where she and her family raise cattle and show goats. She can be reached at rachelspencermedia@gmail.com or on Facebook at Rachel Spencer Media.