Cold Snap Out of It!

This herd of Hereford-Angus cross cattle are feeding on a bale of alfalfa hay that was rolled out for feeding. Nutrition requirements increase dramatically for cattle when the temperatures remain below freezing.

Bitterly cold temperatures slammed the local area Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 8 and 9, with temperatures swinging nearly 40 degrees in the course of 24 hours — hitting a low overnight Monday with wind chills lower than 20 degrees below zero. Just a few days since the New Year have hit average temperatures, while most have been well below.

Extreme cold means more work for everyone, but especially those whose livelihoods are based in the outdoors. While area ranchers tending their animals had their hands full Monday and Tuesday keeping their animals safe, area farmers with winter wheat in the ground just have to wait until spring to see if the cold has impacted their crop.

Winter wheat is planted in the fall so that it can germinate before going dormant. It lies dormant during the winter months until warmer weather triggers further plant development.

While bitter cold is not good on wheat, snow cover helps insulate and the ground and will slow the freezing and effect of the cold, according to Dan Dalinghaus, manager of the Sabetha location of Ag Partners Cooperative.

“If we have snow cover, it helps insulate the ground and will slow the freezing and effect of the cold,” Dalinghaus said. “As long as we keep the snow cover, the wheat will tolerate the cold. If we don’t have snow cover, it [the wheat] can die from winter kill.”

With the fluctuating temperatures, Dalinghaus said, the wheat also runs the risk of dying from heaving — a process of freezing and thawing that heaves the ground up and exposes the roots and crown of the plant making it more susceptible to winter kill.

Farmers will not know how the weather has impacted the wheat until spring comes, Dalinghaus said.

“There is a saying that wheat dies nine times before it actually does die, meaning everyone will think it’s dead — from some act of nature — and it will still survive,” Dalinghaus said. “It is a very tough plant.”

Ranchers also have their work cut out for them in bitterly cold weather conditions. According to Jody Holthaus, extension agent with Meadowlark Extension District, severe wind and cold can cause significant problems for livestock.

Holthaus states that ranchers must ensure the animals have abundant and accessible feed, as the animals need extra feed in order to keep up body heat and maintain body condition.

Freezing conditions also create water issues, and ranchers must continuously check water sources to ensure the animals have access to adequate water.

Temperatures are expected to warm into the weekend, possibly even into the mid-40s and maintain highs in the 30s and lows above 15 degrees for at least the next 10 days — about average for January.

Amber Deters116 Posts

Amber Deters is Co-Editor of The Sabetha Herald, where she has been on staff since 2005. She specializes in school board, election and legislative reporting, as well as photography and page and advertising design. Amber is a 2005 Kansas State University graduate with a degree in journalism and mass communications, print journalism sequence. She lives in Sabetha with her husband and three children.

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