Millions of people all over the country have been feeling the effects of the abnormal start to spring this year. However, it's not just humans who are being thrown off track by the record heat.
Dairy cows and beef cattle are being affected by the unusual spring weather all over the country. In the Midwest and Northeast the changes are mostly positive. Warmer temperatures mean an increase in milk production, 7 percent more on average for dairy farmers in Iowa. Twenty-three states are seeing an average increase of 9 gallons of milk per cow thanks to the incredible heat.
Pennsylvania dairy farmer Bill Baker of Baker Family Farm is reporting an increase of 6.67 percent of their usual March production. He explains that during the normally cooler March, more of the cows' energy goes into maintaining their body weight to keep them warm. With the drastic temperature increase, they've already begun to shed their winter coats and they need less energy to keep themselves warm. That extra energy then translates to an increase in milk production.
Baker's cows usually don't start feeding off of grass until May. This year, however, he's been able to send them out two months ahead of time, the earliest ever for their farm. They've also already plowed their fields, when at this time last year the ground was still covered in snow. Now they are just waiting for the soil temperatures to go up, and trying to figure out when the last frost will be.
"It's a gamble at this point," Baker said.
In Texas the results of the weather are more dangerous. Much-needed rain that has fallen across the northern parts of the state has increased pasture growth for grazing cattle, including an increase in clovers and weeds. Ingesting too much lush vegetation can be fatal to the livestock, causing incidences of bloat and a condition known as grass tetany. Grass tetany occurs when cattle feed on lush plants that throw off the balance of nutrients in the animal, usually in the form of a magnesium deficiency. Ranchers are already reporting cattle deaths because of this overeating, a problem that Baker knows all too well after Pennsylvania's rainy season last year.
"When the grass is too rich, it's essentially poisoning the cows," he said. "They don't know when to stop eating."
To prevent the imbalance of nutrients, farmers can give the animals sodium bicarbonate supplements. An even easier solution is to monitor what they are eating and make sure they are getting a good fill of drier foods.
Southwestern parts of Texas are still in extreme drought conditions. The 2011 drought for the state was the costliest on record, so for areas still facing extreme drought it will remain a challenge to try and turn 2012 into a rebuilding year for thinned herds.
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