Veterinarians say ranchers now need to turn to post-blizzard care for cows and calves |

Veterinarians say ranchers now need to turn to post-blizzard care for cows and calves

Having a barn to shelter calves is possible for some producer but the comingling doesn't come without challenges.
Photo by Rachel Gabel

Preparation for the bomb cyclone snow event in parts of Colorado and surrounding states began days before its arrival for many stockmen. Constructing wind breaks, readying warm calving facilities, and stocking supplies were added to the tasks of cattle producers already balancing the demands of calving season.

Dr. Lora Bledsoe, a large animal practitioner in eastern Colorado, said with the end of the storm, ranchers’ concerns will now turn to post-blizzard care.

In cows and calves, a depletion of minerals and electrolytes is common after a stressful situation, like a blizzard.

“They seem to really run through their reserves with the high energy demand,” Bledsoe said.

Down cows are common during and after blizzard conditions, with late-term bred cows and heifers being especially susceptible.

“They’re especially at risk if their nutritional plane isn’t quite where they need to be or if they’re calving at a body condition score that’s less than a five,” she said. “But, if ranchers act quickly with supplementation, like CMPK in an oral gel or IV injection from your veterinarian, that tends to replenish lost electrolyte and mineral profiles pretty well and they can bounce back from it.”

An energy or electrolyte drench is another option for treatment of down cows.

Bledsoe said with the recent storm beginning with rains turning to snow and high winds, she expects to see some frostbite issues with calves. The wet conditions followed by low temperatures and high winds undermines the integrity of their coat.

Producers can also plan to see scours outbreaks due in part to a number of management decisions during extreme weather that were necessary for calf survival. Penning calves together and mixing age groups of calves during a stressful situation often results in the shedding of clostridial agents from the older calves, causing scours.

“It’s an inevitability of bringing them all in for cover, which you need to do,” she said.

Bledsoe said hot boxes for calves and pens need to be kept as clean as possible, both of which are challenging in wet and cold conditions.

During treatment of a scours outbreak, she said water and nutrition remain important, and treatment with antibiotics if needed can help reduce deaths in calves from the diarrhea and dehydration.


In a feedyard situation, consistent feeding is key to blizzard management. Dr. Abram Babcock, president of Adams Land and Cattle in Broken Bow, Neb., said the flooding in Nebraska is overtaking entire towns around their operation, leaving widespread damage.

Babcock’s operation is comprised of two feedyards in Broken Bow, one with an 85,000 head capacity and the other with an 8,000 head capacity.

Heavy equipment crews worked through the night to clear alleys and bunks to allow feedtrucks to deliver rations on time on March 14. Babcock said the pens were designed using GPS to allow for efficient draining but loaders were used to clear drifts from bunk pads and throughout the lot.

“Really, the goal is to keep the cattle on schedule from a feed perspective and we were able to do that because we had people working around the clock,” he said. “It takes a lot of people during these type of situations to keep the operation going.”

Babcock said with gusts around 70 mph, rain, and snow, there are a lot of people out in bad conditions trying to keep operations functioning.

Babcock said respiratory issues will likely be observed in the coming days, with cattle maintenance requirements higher than normal, leaving them susceptible. Freezing and thawing also opens the door to foot issues, he said. Hard ground can result in abrasions around the hoof and muddy pens can introduce bacteria, foot rot being the most common.

“Foot rot and BRD will be the big things we’ll be focused on,” he said. “Acidosis is common as cattle come back to feed. We’re making sure we are as consistent as possible from a feed delivery standpoint.”

Babcock said the storm didn’t necessitate ration changes as feed was delivered on time, due to the hard work of the crews.

Even with treatment on his mind, Babcock said the loss of gains will far outweigh the health issues presented.

“The maintenance requirements of these cattle just go up so much,” he said. “You’ll probably lose 25 or 30 pounds of live weight (per head) with an event like this.”

Even with the high winds, cattle in the yard were able to find shelter on the sides of the mounds in each pen, part of their design.

“The big impact for Nebraska in general is the amount of flooding and how many people were impacted in agriculture,” he said. “With the small communities around here, it’s going to be pretty devastating and take a lot to recover from.” ❖

— Gabel is an assistant editor and reporter for The Fence Post. She can be reached at or (970) 392-4410.

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