Wild April weather causing distress for Clark County farmers

This weather.

It truly is hard to remember a spring that is more miserable than this one. April Fools’ Day appears to be expanding into an entire month.

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Last week commuting to Dayton from Bethel Township, which was already complicated by construction, was rendered virtually impossible with the closing of some of our river crossing roads like Spangler and Union.

Lower Valley Pike near Old Mill was closed, of course, but we also saw water across some roads we haven’t seen in awhile. And rain water is still pooling in low areas of some fields.

Meanwhile the daffodils are peeking through the snow or mud on alternating days, and we are holding our breath that the blossoms don’t freeze.

While we complain about the inconveniences of wildly alternating temperatures, April snow, and record rainfall, local farmers are looking at how this crazy weather will affect their livelihood.

“This has been the muddiest, coldest relentless winter ever,” said Sasha Rittenhouse, a farmer just north of New Carlisle. “I want it to stop.”

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This is the time of year for cows to have their calves, but this is not the kind of spring farmers expect.

“If April showers bring May flowers, what does April snow bring? Do I even want to know?” she said.

Normally those of us driving past the fields see baby calves that seem to appear overnight beside their mothers in the fresh verdant fields. It seems almost like magic that they are born and quickly begin to act like miniature cows hanging out in the pastures with their mothers and not like newborns at all.

This year however some calves are not landing in the soft green grass of a meadow. Some have landed in a thin layer of snow, or worse yet a thick layer of mud.

Sasha and her husband Scott farm along the western edge of Clark County, and have been much busier than usual this calving season.

Both are members of the Clark County Cattle Producers and Sasha is the President of the Ohio Cattlemen’s Association. Because of their contacts, they are hearing all about the trials of tribulations of other farmers during this calving season.

According to Sasha, the cattle in a herd are bred to give birth during a short space of time called a calving window. This timing is normally very helpful for monitoring the births. However, this year that calving window coincided with the wildly changing weather dynamic, and the results have been distressing.

“There are people who have reported death of 20 percent of calves this year,” said Sasha.

“This weather is extremely hard on the calves,” she said. Umbilical areas can get infected in the mud or calves can develop respiratory problems in the cold dampness.

The Rittenhouse calves are actually doing better than average because Scott, Sasha and their children have been able to keep a close eye on the cows about to give birth.

Sometimes if a calf is struggling in the mud and having trouble nursing, the calf and cow need to be brought into the shelter of a barn for awhile.

Some folks might wonder why cows are just not all kept inside when the weather is bad. Sasha explained to me that putting all in the barn is impossible because of space limitations. After all, we wouldn’t want the herd to trample the calves. It is important to remember that cows are generally more comfortable outside.

Farmers might offer shelter if they anticipate a problem, but the mother cow doesn’t necessarily want it. As Sasha explained, the mother cows seem to prefer a place they consider to be safe and secure along a fence row. Cattle are naturally meant to be in a pasture or meadow.

However, I don’t think we are meant to have spring weather like this either.

Since farmers need to prepare the soil before planting many of them are also worrying how this late spring will affect crops this year. No one wants to be late getting the corn or beans into the ground, but there might be a bit of a delay this year.

Only time will tell how 2018 will turn out in the farm record books. Meanwhile, let’s all hope for a perfect summer to make up for this crazy spring.

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