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How Colorado ranchers keep livestock safe during severe winter weather

The Denver metro area and the Eastern Plains are expected to face a major snow event this weekend.

DENVER — With the Denver metro area and the Eastern Plans expected to face a major snow event this weekend, Colorado's famers and ranchers are preparing their livestock for the winter weather.

Colorado State University (CSU) has tips and advice on caring for livestock during a winter event.

Blowing wind and snow can create high levels of cold stress on animals. Drifting snow in high winds can damage fences and buildings, block access to feed and water, damage or compromise water sources and stock tanks and trap or bury cattle.

Snow and ice storms will make ranges and pastures inaccessible for grazing and will be more difficult to navigate.

Also, livestock could suffer physical damage. Extremities that become wet or our normally damp are particularly venerable to frostbite and freezing during sub-zero temperatures, and livestock could damage or even lose ears or tails.

Male livestock is also venerable to cold damaging reproductive organs, which can impair fertility and an animal's ability to breed.

The timing of the storm is also a concern for ranchers who are dealing with calving season. 

“Anytime we have extreme weather events during calving season, it is an increased risk to those calves," said veterinarian, Dr. Lora Bledsoe. "We’ll do everything we can to reduce that risk and help those mommas and the babies stay warm and happy and healthy.”

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Sheltering and protecting livestock from cold weather

Animals should be moved to feed and shelter before or immediately after a snowstorm begins.

Shelters, sheds or wind breakers are crucial to protecting livestock from winter storms, and younger and small animals in particular face a greater risk of being injured by cold or getting buried in the snow.

Younger animals should be cared for first since they are more venerable than larger animals.

However, shelter alone will not be effective in protecting livestock during extreme winter storm conditions.

Wind alone is usually not enough to significantly impact the performance of animals, but exposure to wind alone can have the same effect on animals as a sudden drop in temperature.

A 20 mph wind is roughly equivalent to a 30-degree drop in temperature.

Tools, rope, blankets, lights, a portable generator with extension cords and fuel are all recommended. Bedding should also be deployed to create a warm and dry place to keep livestock off ice and mud.

Photo Courtesy: Bryan Wendland, KUSA-TV

RELATED: Probable heavy snowfall in Colorado: Here's how you can prepare

Feed and water

Having access to enough feed will help animals maintain body temperature and survive cold temperatures, and extra feed is necessary during severe and prolonged cold.

“We’re trying to get [cattle] really well-fed so their bellies are nice and full with food before the storm hits, so in case we’re delayed or can’t get to them in the deep snow, then they’ll have plenty of food to go on until we can dig a path to get to them," said Dr. Bledsoe. 

Farmers and ranchers should also be prepared if cold weather or power outages make mechanized feeders inoperable.

If a storm last more than two days, the use of emergency feed such as pelleted cake or cake concentrates may be necessary.

Water tanks should be regularly checked to ensure they are clean and free of ice.

Portable watering equipment if also recommended in cases of extreme cold and ice.

> More information and be found on CSU Extension's website.

Winter weather expected in Colorado this weekend

There is a spring storm brewing in the computer forecast models with great potential to hit Colorado. 

First, a small storm system just starting to roll through the mountains late Tuesday evening. It is not associated with the bigger storm expected by Thursday evening. 

Then a large system will be making its way into the Great Basin to the west of Colorado. 

If it plays out like the models are currently showing, there could be four straight days of impacts. Low impacts Thursday and Friday, and big impacts Saturday and Sunday. 

There are a lot of snow accumulation maps out there showing some pretty wild snow totals from 30 to 50 inches. That is possible, but 8-10 inches is almost equally as possible at this point. All numbers carry a low probability this far in advance of the storm.

MORE: Big March storm system bringing snow to Colorado

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