Friday marked the coldest day of the year so far and southern Alberta cattle ranchers say the frigid temperatures can take a toll.

As a bitter cold snap moved across the province this week, ranchers are taking precautions to make sure their cattle stay warm and dry.

While this kind of cold is no surprise to Albertans, it also means cattle can't do what they're supposed to do in a feedlot — fatten up.

"These cattle should be gaining two-and-a-half pounds a day. When it's wretchedly cold like this -35 C weather they'll just hold their weight," said Ben Thorlakson, owner of Thorlakson Feedyards Inc. in Airdrie.

Temperatures across southern Alberta are hovering around -25 C, with wind chills making it feel more like -40 C.

Cattle can — and do — die in similar conditions.

In October, ranchers in South Dakota lost thousands of cattle during a freak blizzard involving freezing rain, four feet of snow and winds gusting at more than 100 kilometres per hour. 

Cattle need to stay warm, dry

That loss reinforces what ranchers and veterinaries say is a crucial need to keep cattle warm and dry during this cold weather. 

"Cattle can get stranded out in fields with the big winds that we had and there have been blizzards in the past where cattle bunch up together and you can have losses," said Dr. David Chalack, a veterinarian with the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency.

"For the most part, these bitterly cold temperatures can be tolerated by the cattle because of their thick hides, but the key is keeping them dry."

Ranchers use bedding made of dry straw and make sure cattle have wind break shelters to keep the worst of the deep freeze away.

Temperatures are expected to improve over the next few days. Environment Canada is forecasting a high of -4 C for Monday.