Albers, Jacks and other cattle producers double-down to save calves, cattle herds during numbing artic blast in Kansas
As the winter temperatures rage on with wind chills in the -20 to -30 range in Kiowa and Pratt counties, farmers and ranchers in the area, and around the state, are doing everything they can to keep newborn calves alive. For Brittany Albers and her family who ranch near Cunningham, this means wrapping calves in blankets and holding them tight. Dylan Jacks and family near Haviland are on a similar mission.
“We have had 32 calves this season. Way too many left to calve especially in this weather,” said Albers. “It's cold, and definitely the longest stretch we've had to deal with this in sub-zero temperatures.”
Albers said her family was mostly worried about the young calves freezing to death. In preparation, they provided layers of hay in calving pastures to keep them warm and check on the cattle herd often to make sure newborns have been licked dry by the cow get that first drink of milk. If the mother cow is not getting the job done, Albers is on duty to bring vulnerable calves inside her own home to warm them up and give them colostrum. After each calf is able to stand on it's own, it will go back out to the momma cow, who takes over feed and care from there. If the calf doesn’t get that all-important first milk in the first 24 hours of it's life, it will die, so the aid the Albers provide is crucial.
“I love it. It's hard work but rewarding when you can save a life,” said Albers. “We fight hard for them. We work for them, then they work for us.”
For Jacks and his family near Haviland, there are around 500 more calves to be born by the end of spring, making a total of 630 calves the Jacks family will have welcomed since the beginning of the year. Much like Albers, Jacks said he has delivered calves in weather like this but not for so many days in a row.
“The precautions vary depending on if it’s a cow or heifer calving. With a heifer there are a lot more precautions to take, they just don't have the experience, but for the most part they are hardy animals and most of them can handle it on their own,” said Jacks. “This weather causes a lot more risk though, if the cow cannot get the calf cleaned off and up to feed quickly, we have to be there to help her with that, the floorboard of the pickup and a towel does wonders for a new baby.”
Even in current chilling conditions, Jacks said a new calf has a good chance if it can get out of the wind and be on a dry surace.
The Jacks family has been raising cattle on and off for many years, but pretty much full-time for the last 15 years. Dylan has built his personal herd to 40 cows and his family has around 600.
"In this business, every one counts," Jacks said. "We do what we can to help them survive."