Late spring snow posing challenges for farmers

10:54 PM, Apr 17, 2013   |    comments
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MELROSE, Minn. - The slow thaw and cold temperatures are causing delays and creating challenges for farmers. Black Angus cattle are Eric Zirbes' livelihood on his family's century farm in Melrose. 

The first calf of the year, a male, was born over the weekend and there are 64 more on the way. 

He pushed calving from the late winter months of February and March to April to take advantage of the warmer weather, but lost that advantage this spring thanks to the extended snow and cold. 

Zirbes said, "It's been about every two hours that I get up throughout the night to check on them." 

Why?  He said, "The calf, the first hour or two, is pretty susceptible to the cold and hypothermia." 

In a typical year, Zirbes said the cows would be out in a corn field high and dry giving birth to their calves and Zirbes wouldn't have to check on them as often because the nights wouldn't be as cold.

He also wouldn't have to work as hard to keep them out of the mud.  This year, he said, "It's a little more work because you have to keep the yards cleaner." 

Luckily, he has enough hay to feed them until June.   

For some farmers, a hay shortage last fall, and snow still on the pastures, has them scrambling to find more feed.  And the cold has cattle eating more too. 

Zirbes also has crops to put in, including a few hundred acres of oats, wheat and corn. For a typical year, with a small farm, he said he's behind about a week.  But is he worried? 

He said, "No.  Some of the bigger guys I think are getting a little anxious."

His equipment to work the soil is still snow bound. 

Zirbes explained, "If it's like this by May first to the seventh of May it's going to be getting to be kind of crunch time." 

What that means is a later harvest in the fall. 

He said, "It always seems to get done every year.  We've been doing this 100 years it always has managed to work out." 

Zirbes says the one good thing about the slow warm up this spring is that it has allowed a lot of the snow to melt into the ground, rather than run off.  And right now, over half of Minnesota is in a drought. 

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