Panhandle ranchers, cattle endure in sustained freeze

Feb 19, 2021

Cows are hearty animals that can withstand freezing temperatures. But when those temperatures last for a week? That can be a problem.

Temperatures were below freezing, and at some points below zero, for the past week in the Panhandle and much of Texas. Snow and ice accumulations have further deteriorated conditions.

Kristen Brown and her family ranch near the town of Channing, where it’s spring calf birthing season. The weather hasn’t stopped that. 

“It’s just pretty amazing to watch a newborn calf that’s kind of wet get up and nurse - even when it’s below freezing,” Brown said.

 

They had a few calves born late last week, as temperatures started to plunge. Ranchers traversed fields looking for animals that needed to be warmed up with blankets. Brown said they also had to break up iced-over water tanks that would soon freeze over again. 

 

It takes all day to check their cows, horses and land, she said. 

 

“Right now, it’s really just about endurance," Brown said earlier this week, when it was still freezing outside. "Pressing on and doing what we can and then assessing the damage when we thaw back out.”

 

Texas Tech University School of Veterinary Medicine Associate Dean and Professor Britt Conklin also ranches in the Panhandle. He faced many of the same problems the Browns did this week. 

 

"Most of the time, cows can tolerate cold better than excessive heat," Conklin said. 

 

Because of their thick hydes and heater-like fourth stomachs, Conklin said cows can handle freezes. It's the substained subzero windchills that made this winter storm different. He said northern cattle learn to eat snow and adapt to harsher winter conditions. But Texas cows experience so few extreme weather events, years between in most cases, that they don't know to do that.

 

Luckily, they have ranchers to help. 

 

"Ranchers do everything they can for their animals," Conklin said. 

 

Have a news tip? Email Sarah Self-Walbrick at saselfwa@ttu.edu. Follow her reporting on Twitter @SarahFromTTUPM.

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