How ranch animals survive the freeze |

How ranch animals survive the freeze

by Jo Rafferty

Anyone driving the back roads since last weekend’s snowfall has seen cows and horses poking their noses through the icy stuff in search of grass.

Seeing this scene and knowing about the record low temperatures (below zero degrees some mornings) may cause some city slickers to worry about the health of the bovine and the equine.

With a little extra care, the animals will be just fine, according to local ranchers and a veterinarian.

“They’ve been through a couple of winters, so they know what it’s like,” said Dal Byington, who has owned and worked the Galeppi Ranch on Genoa Lane for 40 years. “It’s a little tough, but they have a tough hide.”

He said he had started feeding hay to his approximate 200 head of cattle two or three weeks earlier than normal because of the scarcity of natural food.

“They’re working the grass over if there is any in there,” said Byington. “They came running to see what the truck was for on Monday and today they really came running.”

One way cattle warm their bellies is by drinking the water from the Artesian wells on his land, which generally has a temperature of 30 degrees when it is zero degrees outside, said Byington.

He also said that fortifying the cows’ diets actually heats them up.

“We’re feeding them more and the feed generates heat for their bodies,” said Byington.

Brian Peck DVM of Great Basin Equine Medicine & Surgery in Gardnerville, verified Byington’s assertion.

“With cattle we don’t see that many problems, you just increase their food intake,” said Peck.

Peck explained that a cow’s rumen, or the first compartment of its stomach, produces a lot of heat.

“Rumen is a fermentation vat they use to process their feed in one of their four stomachs,” he said.

Feeding more is beneficial to cattle in two ways he said, because they require more food since they’re burning more calories to stay warm.

“Mainly you have to feed them good quality, higher in protein feed because they’re burning more calories than normal. It’s just common sense,” said Annalyn Settelmeyer of the Settelmeyer ranches in Minden and Gardnerville. “Every time this time of year you have to supplement them with feed.”

Both Peck and Byington said that calves are more susceptible to the cold. Byington said his calves, that were weaned about a week ago, have been corralled and are being fed more hay.

Windbreaks can be helpful, according to Peck, who said that calves’ ears and hooves can freeze if it gets below freezing.

Horses, however, are a little more delicate.

“There are problems with colic associated with them not drinking well,” said Peck.

“What happens is they’re not getting enough water and the feed gets impacted in the digestion tract.”

He suggested supplying a heated water tank.

“Provide them with more feed, a windbreak and blanket them,” he said. “But the biggest thing is the heated water tank.”

— Jo Rafferty can be reached at or 782-5121, ext. 213.