Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN

January 4, 2014

Farmers preparing for frigid, snowy onslaught

By Rob Cox Daily News
Greensburg Daily News

---- — GREENSBURG — As Saturday, Sunday and Monday approach, the area moves ever-closer to what’s forecast to be record-breaking winter weather and Decatur Countians are scrambling to prepare.

For farmers though, there’s far more involved in getting ready for the impending frigid, snowy onslaught than preparing oneself and one’s family.

Alan Lowe, owner and operator of Greensburg’s Lowe’s Pellets & Grain, Inc., knows all too well the amount of extra planning and work involved in preparing a livestock facility for the extreme temperatures Decatur County is currently experiencing and the truly brutal cold yet on its way.

Lowe and his family-owned business, in fact, might well be considered a first-line of preparation for area farmers. Lowe understands, too, how many livestock operations are depending on him to deliver an uninterrupted supply of feed during the cold and snow that’s reportedly set to hit. For Lowe, the snowfall is easily the greater impediment of the two.

“We’re going to be making feed and delivering it tomorrow [Saturday],” Lowe told the Daily News. “We normally don’t do that on Saturday, but would ordinarily be making and delivering the feed on Monday.”

With anywhere between six-and-12 inches of snowfall predicted though, Lowe isn’t willing to take a chance on being forced to shut down Monday.

“We’re doing it in anticipation of the severe weather, trying to stay on top of it,” Lowe said, “so we and our farmers can afford for us to be closed Monday. We’re calling customers and moving deliveries up to get ahead of the weather.”

Having sufficient feed on hand is especially important in severely-cold weather, because animals tend to eat more in such extremes to help keep warm.

Lowe, who’s been around animals and production agriculture his whole life, didn’t seem overly worried regarding livestock safety in the cold, provided farmers take ample measures to insure their comfort and safety.

“For most production animals,” he said, “such as cattle or horses – as long they can stay dry and out of the wind, they can survive severely cold temperatures. But they have to be able to get to a place where they can get out of the cold; someplace where they don’t get covered with snow and where they’re blocked from the wind. They need plenty of feed, of course, and water that isn’t frozen.”

Hogs, Lowe added, are slightly more vulnerable to nature, largely depending on how acclimated they are to cold weather. Regardless of whether they’re acclimated to the outdoors or no though, these animals generally need the same care as other livestock, meaning they should be kept dry and out of the wind.

“Animals are a lot like humans,” he ended, “if we wear warm clothes, stay dry and stay out of wind, we can take a lot of cold.”

As he does every day, Decatur County farmer Albert Armand rose at 5 a.m., Friday morning. By 7:15, he was making the rounds of his small operation, preparing his livestock for the impending cold and snow.

“As far as getting up and going to work every morning,” Armand said, “Friday wasn’t much different than any other day; I’m out working every day. There’s always something to do.”

Still, Armand conceded that the cold weather is certainly increasing his work load and that the brutal temperatures yet to come will increase it even more. “We’re certainly not looking forward to the extra work one bit,” he said.

Armand’s morning to-do list on Friday included feeding and watering the animals, checking all the buildings for waterline freezing and checking animals for signs of illness that might require medical attention.

For animals that bed on straw, one of the top priorities is making certain there’s an ample supply and that existing straw is in good shape. For those animals – especially hogs – a sufficient supply of fresh straw can be critical.

Armand also found himself shuffling a number of his 120 sows Friday morning from the “breeding lots” to the farm’s confined feeding unit, where the bulk of his more than 1,200 hogs are housed.

“We had some extra space in the feeding unit,” Armand explained, “so we moved some of the sows over to fill the space and add extra body heat.”

That doesn’t mean the remaining sows in the breeding building are in greater peril from the cold,

Armand stressed, describing the breeding facility as a “deep-bedded building.”

The breeding hogs, Armand explained, repose on large layers of straw, which are called “deep beddings.” There’s so much straw, in fact, that the animals will burrow deep into the layers.

“When you come into the building the next morning,” Armand said, “you’ll just see ears and noses sticking out of the straw. These animals are older, too, and that makes them more able to handle the cold. They’ll be just fine.”

Armand also raises 20 head of cattle from his small operation, allowing them to graze on land that’s generally “not suitable to crops,” which permits him to bring in “a little extra income.” “Plus I know where my hamburger is coming from,” he added.

Cows, he said, are different from hogs and chickens, in that they generally spend all their time outdoors.

“Our cows have a building with four walls and a roof where they can shelter from the cold,” Armand said, “but most of the time – even in extreme cold – given a choice, animals spend most of their time outside, will choose to stay outside.”

He added, “That doesn’t mean they’re going to freeze, but they simply have a spot where they’re most comfortable. They might be more comfortable in that spot in than they would be in a crowded building. I’m talking about a place where they’d obviously be sheltered from the wind, but they’re probably also going to be standing in direct sunlight. They absorb that heat on their coats and can get far warmer than they would indoors. You’d be surprised how much heat they can generate that way.”

Armand echoed Lowe in discussing how much animals eat during extremely cold weather, agreeing that livestock eat greater amounts during the cold to maintain body heat.

“They’re using more energy when it’s extremely cold like this,” he said. “So they need the extra calories to help keep warm.”

Of course, before he can properly care for his animals in frigid, snowy conditions, Armand must first tend to personal winter-weather preparation.

“When I leave the house [in the morning],” he said, “I don’t know if I’ll be out in the cold for 15 minutes or for several hours, so I try to be prepared. You just never know what’s going to happen when it gets this bad. You think you’ve got everything under control, but then you get a busted waterline, a broken feed grinder, a tractor that won’t start; most of this stuff isn’t catastrophic but fixing it can really eat up your time.”

Armand believes in layered winter clothing, including insolated bib overalls and gloves, a hooded sweatshirt and hooded “carhartt-type jacket” – both of which are also insulated – and insulated rubber boots.

“If the temperature gets down to 20 below zero,” he added, “I’ll probably drag out my long underwear, too.”

Contact: Rob Cox 812-663-3111 x7011; robert.cox@greensburgdailynews.com