Shivering calf isn’t a good sign

  • A Scottish Highlander yearling named Xander warms up in the blast of a kerosene heater. Courtesy

For the Monitor
Sunday, January 07, 2018

My fingers hurt. The plastic wrap on the hay bale was frozen and so were my fingers.

Bruce got out of the Bobcat to help me, the one-woman ground crew, release the bale from its wrap and feed it out to the cattle. We were on day six of the arctic blast and the cattle needed food, lots of food.

Besides food, livestock need water to survive cold temperatures so when we aren’t feeding, we’re checking water. When the temperatures stay frigid for so long even water heaters won’t work. We have to check four troughs at least three times a day and sometimes heat the water with a kerosene heater I call the “Salamander” after breaking up the ice.

Cattle can freeze too. I brought one shivering steer named Xander into the barn away from the wind where I duct-taped a wool horse blanket on him. Wool keeps livestock (and people) warm and wicks away moisture, but despite these efforts, his temperature plummeted to 97.5 degrees; it should have been 102.

Relief came when, for two hours, we heated him with the Salamander. His internal temperature finally rose to 103.2, an acceptable level, but I’ll continue to watch him. I check all the cattle every day, but mostly the young stock, for shivering. If a calf is shivering, it needs help.

Adult cattle with plenty of food and water can handle the cold, but I still check them for shivering or odd behavior. Cows that don’t show interest in food or separate themselves from the herd can be in trouble even if they are not shivering. Snow cover on a cow indicates that animal is well insulated and protected from the weather.

So far, except for Xander, all the cattle are coping with the cold, but we’ll all be grateful for a heat wave. I’m ready for 20-degree weather, are you?

(Carole Soule is co-owner of Miles Smith Farm in Loudon, where she raises and sells beef, pork, lamb, eggs and other local products. She can be reached at cas@milessmithfarm.com.)