By Ellen Crawford, North Dakota State University
Recent snow and ice storms and power outages have been brutal for livestock and livestock producers.
Those conditions have kept livestock from getting enough drinking water. Beef cattle, for example, need 8 to 10 gallons per day.
Producers might be tempted to think their cattle can survive by eating snow as a water source, but even when a lot of snow is available, beef cattle need water, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service veterinarian Charlie Stoltenow.
"By and large, cattle do not adapt to eating snow as a water source very quickly,” he says. "Wildlife have learned how to paw, scrape and eat ice and snow for their water needs. Cattle can do the same, but not overnight or in a two-week period. To successfully adapt a herd of cattle to consuming snow for their water needs actually takes years.”
However, not all cows can make the transition, he notes.
Plus, the current icy conditions make getting water out of the snow especially difficult for animals.
"The real issue with this right now is that the snow is in wind-packed drifts and/or has been rained on or melted and now is refrozen,” says Greg Lardy, head of NDSU's Animal Sciences Department. "You will not get cattle or many other livestock species to consume this kind of snow as it is too hard on their mouths.”
Cattle producers will need to be resourceful because they will need to figure out how to get water to their cattle herds, Stoltenow says.
"If cattle stop drinking or have severely reduced levels of water consumption, they also will reduce their feed intake, and this will lead to disaster in this very cold weather,” he adds. "Cattle need to keep eating to produce enough energy and heat to keep from suffering frostbite and hypothermia.”
A generator is one option for restoring power to pumps and heated livestock watering systems. But producers need to keep safety in mind, says Tom Scherer, an NDSU Extension agricultural engineer.
He advises people not to operate generators in an enclosed or partially enclosed building because gasoline or diesel engines produce deadly levels of carbon monoxide.
"Carbon monoxide gas is tasteless, odorless and colorless but is very toxic to humans and animals,” he says.
Choosing a generator that provides power at the voltage the pumps and watering systems require is important as well. For example, some wells require 110 volts of alternating current (AC) power and some cattle watering systems with heaters require 220 volts of AC power.
People also need the proper connections if their pump or watering system isn't wired for a generator, and they must be careful if they are installing that wiring, Scherer says.
When using a generator, also make sure to shut off the main switch in the power panel to prevent supplying power to other parts of the farm, and shut off all breakers supplying power to other nonessential circuits.
Another option for getting water to cattle is to melt snow in a metal water tank. Scherer suggests burning wood in a barrel weighted down in the tank or using a propane heater to melt snow and ice.
"However, snow and ice need to be continually added to the water tank as what's in it melts,” he says. "This requires a large supply of snow or ice, which may have to be hauled to the water tank.”