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Oklahoma Farmers And Ranchers Struggle Through Deep Freeze

Todd Johnson / Oklahoma State University Agricultural Communications Services

The cold weather gripping Oklahoma and a large swath of the United States is creating headaches for farmers who are working day and night to keep their livestock alive. The subzero temperatures are causing oil in tractors to gel and stop working, and water tanks to freeze over.

In a video with the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Kyle Glazier, a farmer and rancher in Kingfisher County, uses an ax to break up ice in a tub that is several inches thick. He said he doesn’t remember weather like this.

“I tried to prepare as best I could. I tried to get all the hay arranged where I could get to it even if the roads get bad,” Glazier said.

The temperatures are historic. Oklahoma City saw temperatures dip as low as -15 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Norman. That makes work difficult for ranchers like Nocona Cook, who raises cattle and grows wheat outside of Cordell in southwest Oklahoma. He says he has to haul water to his wheat, but with the low temperatures, it can freeze by the time he gets there.

Adding to the concern is that it’s calving season, when cows give birth. Cook said he was up until 3 a.m. making sure a calf was warm, using hay as bedding and putting them in a heated barn. At the end of the day though, there’s only so much he can do.

“I was telling my wife the other day it's terrible that when we do absolutely everything we possibly can do to keep these cattle warm and to keep them alive,” Cook said. “And you know these snow storms are coming and the winds are coming and the temperature dropping and ... you did absolutely everything you possibly can do to keep these cattle safe ... and sometimes it's not enough.”

It’s not just life that’s at stake. Derrell Peel, a livestock marketing professor at Oklahoma State University, said cows are worth about $1,500 each. He estimates that ranchers spend an additional $750 to take care of it. If a cow is injured by the cold, it could affect how much money they get when they sell them.

“They'll be sort of marked for life as a cold weather survivor,” Peel said. “And that will actually impact their value later on.”

Ranchers can get disaster assistance from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through the Livestock Indemnity Program through the Farm Service Agency.

Peel also said many auctions have been delayed and will have to spend more money on feed for livestock.

Credit Todd Johnson / OSU Agricultural Communications Services
Logan County livestock producer Marka Acton braves the elements to ensure her cattle have access to quality hay in a bale feeder.

Brent Bolen raises about 150,000 broiler chickens in contract with Tyson Foods, raises cattle and sells hay. He says he had 25,000 square bales in September, but he’s sold out in the past two weeks because of the unprecedented demand for extra feed.

Bolen said he has a modern chicken house, so a computer maintains the temperature. He also has backup generators, but said the subzero temperatures can cause the fuel to gel. For that reason, he said it requires extra maintenance to make sure everything is working.

“When things are unplanned, kind of like this, you just got to hunker down … and just keep going,” Bolen said.


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Seth Bodine was KOSU's agriculture and rural issues reporter from June 2020 to February 2022.
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