Hard winter for local dairy farms

ESCANABA – An extremely cold and snowy winter has left many farmers struggling to recover from a delayed planting season. For farms with cattle, however, the cold winter has been particularly difficult.

“I think that the hard winter has already had it’s affect on livestock,” said Frank Wardynski, ruminant extension educator for Michigan State University Extension, who specializes in beef and dairy production.

In the U.P., where dairy production is the dominant agricultural industry, farms with cattle are hit especially hard by cold weather. Nancy Porath and her husband Allen, who operate a dairy farm at the border of Ford River and Bark River townships, felt the effects of the cold on their herd first hand.

“It was a rough winter. We lost eight cows and probably a dozen calves because of the cold,” said Nancy Porath, adding other dairy farmers saw similar losses this winter.

Temperatures that plunged to as low as -25 degrees and were exacerbated by high winds for days at a time stressed cattle and caused the animals to lose the energy stores they had built up prior to the winter.

“You can weather it out a couple days but not as many as we had,” said Porath.

Farms frequently grow forage crops like corn and hay, which are used to feed livestock.

“Most of it isn’t sold. Most of it is grown and used by the farmer on the farm,” said Wardynski.

The Poraths are typically one of the first in the fields planting crops to support their 110 head of dairy cattle. However, for them the planting season hasn’t even begun.

“This is the latest since we’ve been farming and this will be our centennial year,” said Porath.

The Poraths grow barley, oats, corn, and alfalfa hay. Because corn must be planted before June 6 and when soil temperatures are between 50 and 55 degrees, farmers who grow corn for cattle or other uses may be particularly hard hit this season.

“Barley you can put in the ground when it’s still cold, but corn you can’t,” said Porath.

The planting of barley and other crops have been further delayed by spring rains.

“As soon as the rain stops and things dry out a little bit I think the farmers will be out non-stop,” said Porath adding, that farmers in tractors equipped with lights can work the fields well into the evening hours.

However, for the crops to recover from the late planting season and produce good yields the weather cannot stay dry for long.

“After it gets dried out and we start getting crops into the field we’re going to need plenty of rain for hay and planted crops,” said Wardynski.

At the moment all farmers can do is wait to see what Mother Nature brings.

“It’s all up to Mother Nature as to whether or not she cooperates with us,” said Nancy Porath. “It’s like I tell my husband, Mother Nature is the only woman who always gets her way.”