Deep freeze chores

By Joseph Murphy

I guess you could call it a "heat wave." After dealing with double-digit subzero temperatures for four days, you would think 8 degrees felt balmy.

But it was hard for Dan Hanrahan, a farmer from Winterset, to buy into that as he hit the door latch and opened the tractor cab door to start his daily chores. Even with a 20-degree temperature change, Hanrahan still braced for the rush of cold air that washed over his face and slowly penetrated the numerous layers of clothes he had on.

It's all part of a days work this time of year for Hanrahan though. His cows need to be fed, and it doesn't matter what the thermometer reads or the weatherman says.

"You just plan that everything is going to take longer when it is cold. Usually, you run into something that won't start or needs attention," he said.

At Hanrahan's farm, preparation for winter starts months before the first snowflakes fall.

"It starts long before winter gets here. We pay attention to what we call the 'body condition' of the cow," he said. "That means the amount of fat and the shape they are in. We try to keep them in really good shape so they can handle what comes their way."

One of his tools is sorting the cows into different groups according to their body conditions and age. That way he can adjust the feed and prepare the cows, by adding weight, in October and November before the temperatures fall.

Dan Hanrahan works with the cows two times a day during colder weather to make sure they receive enough nutrition. That means longer hours exposed to the dangerous conditions.

When cold weather floods into Iowa, Hanrahan said he adds more feed and opportunities for corn stalk grazing to help the cattle deal with the cold. During warmer months, one bale of hay per day is enough for the herd.

"When we started getting the snow, we upped that to two bales per day to give them the nutrition they needed," he said. "During the extreme cold over the last couple of days, we have given them two and a half bales a day."

Working for hours outside can also take its toll on the caretaker. Hanrahan said he also has to prepare for subzero days.

"I suppose my feed intake probably increases in the cold, too," he said with a chuckle. "I put on more layers and try to take breaks inside to warm up."

His cattle convert the hay and cornstalks into energy as they graze. Terraces that are used throughout the year to prevent soil erosion also serve as windbreaks for the cattle and help with their comfort against the weather conditions.

"We are doing everything we can to make sure that they are getting what they need," he said.

Keeping water tanks open and water pumps working is a constant battle during subzero temperatures.

That includes making sure the cows have access to fresh water. As Hanrahan filled a tank of water to transport to the field, he talked about the need to haul water because of drought conditions that persisted in the area for much of the growing season.

Ice is an enemy day and night this time of year. Hanrahan said he has to check the water sources to make sure that it is clear from ice.

"One goal is to make sure the cows never have a bad day," Hanrahan said. "That's real easy in the summer when it is 75 degrees out. But it is just as important in the winter. Whatever Mother Nature throws at us, we just work that much harder to make sure that they have what they need."

Created By
Joseph Murphy


Photos by Joseph L. Murphy

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