Cold puts livestock at risk

The SPCA’s provincial field supervisor says his office is receiving complaints about potentially distressed livestock.

The SPCA’s provincial field supervisor says his office is receiving complaints about potentially distressed livestock.

Ken Dean, who is based in Red Deer, said callers are concerned about cattle in fields without supplemental feed, and horses on pasture with very little grass.

Last week, Alberta Farm Animal Care issued a warning that livestock in some parts of the province could be at risk due to the cold weather, and the high price and scarcity of feed.

Barry Yaremcio, a beef and forage specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development, said unusual growing conditions this year adversely affected energy, protein and mineral levels in some forage crops.

Yields were down, he added, which has boosted prices and pushed some producers to alternate feeds like straw and ethanol byproducts.

Dean agreed that the cost and availability of feed has been a problem for some.

“Not every producer has a great stockpile and they might be trying to run out for the whole winter just what they have, and not buy any.”

Others, he said, aren’t able to source feed or have found it too expensive.

Accumulations of snow are also a concern, said Dean. Cattle are less adept than horses when it comes to pawing through snow to reach food, but neither species has much success when the snow is trampled or hard. It also takes more energy to dig through.

Another issue is water, said Dean, especially when the snow isn’t soft enough to consume.

“The best you can have is liquid water for your cattle.”

He urges people who see livestock that appear to be having difficulties to contact their owner.

“In some cases, it’s just a lack of vigilance,” said Dean, noting that many producers work off-farm and don’t see their stock in the daylight.

Alternatively, a call to the SPCA or AFAC might be in order.

“We see if we can put a process in play where we can encourage the owner . . . to get feed on the property, get them into water, get them out of pasture into corrals where water is more readily available, get the feeding underway.”

It’s important to act promptly, said Dean, explaining that problems will only grow worse.

“If your cattle are starting to lose condition at this time of the year, we still have four months of winter. They can lose a lot more condition as winter goes on.”

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