Calgary

Alberta beef producers face perfect storm of challenges, sometimes leading to calves' deaths

A lingering abundance of snow, lack of chinooks and freeze-thaw cycles are causing multiple challenges for Alberta beef producers, in some cases leading to the death of calves.

Lots of lingering snow, lack of chinooks, cold winds causing nightmares, even deaths

Calving challenges

CBC News Calgary

3 years ago
0:33
Calving challenges 0:33

Lingering abundent snow, lack of chinooks and freeze-thaw cycles are causing multiple challenges for Alberta beef producers, in some cases leading to the death of calves.

"When a calf is born, mom takes off somewhere, you can't get to her without a tractor because the snow is so deep and even then the tractor has trouble," Ken Pigeon told CBC News on Friday.

Pigeon is the ranch manager at OH Ranch Calgary Stampede near Longview, Alta., about 75 kilometres southwest of Calgary.

"It's been a little more challenging with this snow," he said.

"Can't get around the pastures as easy and more feed of course, so the inputs are getting higher and you have to be on top of the cows quicker and sooner or else they can freeze to death," he said.

Ken Pigeon of OH Ranch Calgary Stampede near Longview, Alta., says this year has been particularly challenging for beef producers in the province. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Pigeon says no grass equals no grazing which leads to a lot more feed, which is pricey.

"We plow feed trails so the cattle have a place to go. When the snow is that deep, it's difficult for everything."

Annemarie Pedersen with Alberta Farm Animal Care — an industry group of producers helping connect other producers with resources — says this year has been exceptionally challenging.

"The weather has really created some unique situations this spring," she said.

"For people who are used to calving in the spring, it is not usually this cold or we don't usually have this much snow on the ground."

Long, exhausting job

Pedersen says calving season is pushing people to their limits.

"They are really having to go a long way to keep these calves safe and they are certainly doing it, but it's a long job and it's exhausting," she said.

"It isn't a quick job. It's definitely dedication and that's what we are seeing happening right now."

Pigeon says right now the snow is layered after a series of freeze-thaw cycles, but it's not the only problem.

"It's the cold winds that are really the problem. It's getting around to check your cows. To get around and check them all."

The veteran rancher says it will eventually get better.

"It's 10 weeks of 24/7 and all hours. There is no rest for the wicked," Pigeon said with a smile.

"The grass will come and the cows will do well."

Ranchers have to get to calves right after they are born or they could freeze to death in current southern Alberta weather conditions. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

With files from CBC's Terri Trembath

now