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Farmers work to keep livestock warm during Iowa cold

Cattle in winter

This week, Iowa experienced some unbearably cold days—like, face-hurting, snot-freezing cold. Craig and I tried to avoid being outside as much as possible, but he did have to check a few grain bins during the two-degree weather. His gloves stuck to the ladder leading to the top of the bin, and the 45 seconds it took me to help him open some of the bin’s roof vents was enough cold for me. It definitely had me thinking about how Iowa’s livestock farmers are always “on-call” and the lengths to which they go to keep their animals healthy and comfortable during the worst of conditions.

For Linn County Farm Bureau member Jason Russell, keeping his pigs comfortable during the winter is done with his climate-controlled barn. In fact, thanks to this great technology, his young pigs must feel like they’re at home on a Hawaii island living in balmy 78 degree conditions—102 degrees warmer than some mornings outside. I don’t know about you, but we don’t even keep our home that warm (although I certainly wish we did). Jason has also installed heaters in each pen creating “nesting” areas that hold steady at a tropical 90 degrees!  Sign me up for that! 

Chad Ingels, who raises pigs in a hoop barn and in outdoor huts in Fayette County says he relies on lots of bedding to keep his livestock comfortable. He said they also snuggle into the bedding and against one another to stay warm, utilizing their own body heat of 102.5 degrees—what’s considered a fever for us humans.

Keeping outdoor cattle warm certainly has its set of challenges as shared by Farm Bureau members from Gary Langbein of Sac County and Justin and Jennifer Dammann of Page County. Gary has been using baled corn stalks as bedding to put down on a piece of his pasture to keep his cattle off the frozen ground. The Dammanns were feeding their cattle for 12 hours every day during the extreme temperatures because the heat from digesting food can help keep livestock warm. Cattle also grow a thicker coat during the winter which helps insulate their body heat.

  • Jason in his pig barn
    Jason in his pig barn
  • Chad's pigs staying warm in bedding
    Chad's pigs staying warm in bedding
  • Gary providing bedding as a ground barrier for cattle
    Gary providing bedding as a ground barrier for cattle

Taking care of livestock is a calling that is not taken lightly and a commitment that may mean staying up all throughout the night to help a newborn calf survive if they happen to be born in less than ideal temperatures. These livestock farmers are so dedicated they even report using their family’s only generator to power a livestock barn, instead of their own homes during a storm—that’s what happened to Val Plagge, a Franklin County Farm Bureau member and mother of four.

I guess it’s the dedication and work ethic that comes with the territory and makes so many Iowans proud of our livestock farming heritage. It’s why Iowa grocery shoppers are confident Iowa farmers are caring for animals responsibly. I’d say hats off to you livestock farmers for a job well done, but on second thought—you’d better keep those caps on . It’s cold out there! 

  By Caitlyn Lamm. Caitlyn is Iowa Farm Bureau's public relations specialist. 



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