Kansas Ranchers Brave Deep Freeze to Care for Cattle

January 7, 2014 02:43 AM
Kansas Ranchers Brave Deep Freeze to Care for Cattle

Source: Associated Press

Kansas cattle rancher Debbie Lyons-Blythe actually rejoiced Monday when school was canceled for her twin teenage sons, because it meant she would have extra help on the family farm in the Flint Hills amid the frigid temperatures.

"The kids are pretty excited about it too, but it means they are not sitting by the TV playing video games," she said. "They are outside working with us."

High school seniors Tyler and Eric Blythe, both 18, were helping water and feed cattle and rolling out straw so the animals would have a warm place to lay down. They got help from a 19-year-old brother, Trent Blythe, who was home from college.

Temperatures at the farm dipped to minus 9 degrees overnight, cold enough to freeze even some of the electric watering troughs. As long as cattle have fresh water to drink they can survive, even if it is icy cold water, Lyons-Blythe said. 

When the farm pond freezes over, the family chops the ice to make sure there is a hole where their cattle can drink. To thaw out the water in their frozen electric troughs, the teens made lots of trips back and forth from the house to the pens carrying 5-gallon buckets of hot water.

"It makes the kids understand the responsibilities on the farm," Lyons-Blythe said, adding that her children have bundled up and come in from time to time to warm up and make sure nobody gets frostbite.

"They still have that satisfaction at the end of the day that we've got somewhere around 500 head of animals here and they took care of everything that was needed," Lyons-Blythe said.

She said she put on three layers of clothing to try to keep warm, bulky enough that it made it difficult maneuvering into and out of a tractor. But the extra help from her children allowed her to come in from the cold earlier so she could fix a big pot of beef enchilada soup for lunch and start on the chicken and dumplings the family would have for dinner.

The coldest places in Kansas on Sunday night into early Monday morning were in Garden City and Cottonwood Falls where the temperatures dipped to a minus 12 degrees, said Vanessa Pearce, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. Temperatures varied widely, with southeast Kansas and northeast Kansas seeing low temperatures hovering around minus 11 degrees. It was minus 5 degrees in Wichita at 6:25 a.m. Monday.

In north-central Kansas, Jon Ferguson ventured outside Monday to check on the calves he is raising at his ranch in Kensington near the Kansas-Nebraska border. Temperatures overnight had fallen to minus 10 degrees. He made sure he had on insulated boots and his usual heavy coat, but he wasn't planning on doing a whole lot of outside chores. What little snow there was had melted away, so the calves were dry and weathering the cold well.

"Most of us in the cattle business, as least in this part of the world I live in, understand you have to deal with these kinds of temperatures," Ferguson said.

While having little snow on the ground is good for cattle when temperatures dive, it leaves winter wheat without an insulating cover and can lead to crop loss.

But Ferguson was not giving much thought to his winter wheat right now, and he won't know until spring the extent of the freeze damage. He hoped his wheat was not damaged, but took comfort in the fact he could still get some income from it thanks to crop insurance.

"Wheat has nine lives. There is absolutely no point in worrying, you can't do anything about it," Ferguson said. "It is not one of those things I am going to sit and worry about."

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