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Just How Do Santa's Reindeer Get the Job Done? 

Glenn Selk, Oklahoma State University Emeritus Extension Animal Scientist & Mark Z. Johnson, Oklahoma State University Extension Beef Cattle Breeding Specialist


It is the “most wonderful time of the year” and this week Dr. Glenn Selk joins us to address the age-old questions of what permit Reindeer to pull Santa’s sleigh all over the globe on Christmas eve.


Have you ever wondered how Santa's reindeer can make that monumental journey on Christmas Eve? Let's look into some key facts about reindeer that may help us understand how they transport Ole St. Nick on his appointed rounds over the world. First of all, historians report that reindeer have been domesticated by humans for over 5,000 years. Since Santa himself is no spring chicken, we can assume that they have worked together for quite a while. They should not have any trouble finding their way around. There is no need to worry about them getting lost. We do know that reindeer are like ruminants. They are like cattle in this regard. They have four compartments to their stomach. Of course Santa gets them filled up with hay before he leaves the North Pole, so they should have plenty of feed stored in the four compartments to make it all around the globe. Also, cattle nutritionists have known for years that hay digests more slowly than grain, therefore the big meal that the reindeer eat before the journey should last even longer. Or just like your mom says, "It'll stick to their ribs!". As for drinking water, that should be no problem whatsoever. In their homeland the water is all frozen so they are used to getting the moisture they need by eating snow. So as the sleigh is parked on snowy rooftops in cold weather cities, the reindeer can take on the moisture they need if they get thirsty.


How do they keep warm while flying around on Christmas Eve? The fur that they have is very thick and can hold a lot of air. The "blanket" of insulation combining fur and air helps keep them warm in even the coldest of climates. Plus flying around Christmas night in many areas of the world that are warmer than they have at home should not be a problem.


How do they fly? Well that’s a tougher question, and we really do not have that one completely answered. However, let’s look at what we do know about them. Reindeer are amazingly fast runners on the ground. A newborn baby reindeer at one day of age can out run the fastest person on earth. By the time that they are fully grown it is hard to tell what speeds that they could reach. Next remember those huge antlers. Antlers of adult male reindeer can be as much as 4 feet long! Just think about it. Each reindeer has 2 sets; that’s 8 feet of antlers and with eight reindeer (or nine if we count Rudolph on foggy nights) that is 64 to 72 feet of total antler span. A typical small airplane only has about 20 - 30 feet of wingspan. Certainly it seems feasible those eight reindeer running that fast with all that antler span could get off the ground.


There are a couple of myths about reindeer that we should clear up. You have probably heard the poem that says that they have tiny reindeer feet. Actually they have a very wide large hoof that they use at home to dig through the snow to find grass and moss to eat. You've got to think that those wide hooves would come in handy for sliding to rather sudden stops on the small landing sites that Santa has to work with on Christmas Eve. And you've probably heard the song about “up on the house top click, click, click”. Well it is true that reindeer do make a clicking sound as they walk. They have a tendon that snaps over a bone joint and makes a clicking sound on every step. These are just a few facts about Santa's Reindeer. Maybe this will help us understand that age-old mystery that occurs every Christmas. 


In Cow-Calf Corner, Mark Johnson invites Glenn Selk back to Cow-Calf Corner to discuss the most important ruminant animals of the season: Santa’s reindeer on SunUpTV.



Feeder Markets Finishing the Year Strong

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Feeder cattle auctions in Oklahoma are winding down for 2022, with many auctions closed for the remainder of December.  USDA-AMS issued the final Oklahoma weekly auction summary for the year this past week.  Figure 1 shows the 2022 average prices for M/L, No. 1 steers, along with the weekly maximum and the final prices for mid-December.  Feeder prices at the end of the year (green line) are at the annual maximum in December for steers under 550 pounds and above 850 pounds.  Prices for steers from 550-850 pounds were at the maximum in August/September but are above the annual average at the end of the year.  In general, feeder cattle markets are finishing 2022 strong with momentum going into the new year.


This graph shows the average and maximum weight per dollar during December 16 to December 22.


Oklahoma remains in significant drought with the latest Drought Monitor showing that over 98 percent of the state is abnormally dry (D0) or in some stage of drought (D1-D4).  The drought caused significant changes in the timing of feeder cattle marketings in Oklahoma in the second half of the year.  Figure 2 shows the changes in weekly feeder cattle volume from mid-July through mid-December.  Weekly volumes were larger year over year from July through mid-October and have been mostly smaller since.  From July to mid-October, the cumulative additional weekly feeder volume was up an average of 18 percent, totaling over 71,000 additional head of feeder cattle marketed in auctions during this period.  The year over year decreases since mid-October have reduced the cumulative total by about half, meaning that the total feeder cattle auction volume in the second half of 2022 is up over 35,000 head at the end of the year, with all of that increase occurring prior to mid-October. Smaller auction volumes since mid-October are no doubt contributing to the strong feeder prices at the end of the year.


This graph shows the changes in weekly feeder cattle volume from mid-July through mid-December.


Feeder numbers are expected to remain low going into 2023.  Stocker numbers on wheat pasture are well below normal suggesting that there will not be a large “wheat pasture” run of feeders into March or for graze-out into May.  On January 31, 2023, USDA-NASS will release the annual Cattle report, which will provide cattle inventory numbers and confirm the status of state and national cattle numbers.  The report is expected to confirm that significant drought liquidation occurred in 2022 leading to sharply tighter cattle supplies in 2023.    


Derrell Peel, OSU Extension livestock marketing specialist, says the cattle markets are ending 2022 on a strong note on SunUpTV from December 3, 2022.



Getting Ready for the Next Cold Snap

Paul Beck, Oklahoma State University State Extension Beef Cattle Nutrition Specialist


Temperatures have been pretty nice for this time of year; however, we are predicted to get some extreme cold next week for Christmas. Cows tend to lose their acclimation to cold weather when we have a series of nice thermoneutral days. Condition of cows and their hair coat can play a large part in their tolerance to colder conditions. Cows in good body condition, those with body condition scores of 5 to 6, with good thick winter hair coats have a lower critical temperature around 32° Fahrenheit. Thin cows with thinner hair coat are at more risk with lower critical temperatures of around 40° F, while cows with wet haircoat have lower critical temperature of 59° F. For each degree below the lower critical temperature energy requirements increase by 1%. With wind chills down to expected to get below 0° F, maintenance energy requirements will increase by up to 30 to 40%.


When cows get below their lower critical temperature and get into cold stress, they can adapt by increasing feed consumption to increase their basal metabolic rate and increase heat of fermentation. Research indicates cattle consume 105% to 110% of predicted intake when temperatures drop below 22 degrees F and up to 125% of predicted intake when temperatures drop below 5 degrees. When acute cold stress occurs from a storm front moving in quickly cows can have a 50% cut in intake through grazing behavior changes and water intake decreases. So along with the increase in maintenance energy requirements the temperature reductions, decreased intake puts them in even more of an energy deficiency. For wind chills of minus-20 degrees or lower, feed intake may be reduced because cattle are reluctant to leave sheltered areas.


This week's arctic blast can create significant dangers for animal health and production. OSU Extension cold-weather recommendations include:

  • Make sure cattle have access to as much hay as they want to eat. Ruminal fermentation helps keep the animals warm. 
  • If increasing concentrate supplementation rates to help offset energy deficiencies it is best to provide feed concentrate supplements every day.
  • Feed cattle beside or in a grove of trees or some other windbreak that is large enough for all the animals gathered. The better the windbreak, the lower the animal’s cold stress. 
  • If there is no natural windbreak available near a water source, a quick and simple one can be made by placing a line of round bales of straw or low-quality hay where cattle can bed down. 
  • Ensure cattle have unrestricted access to unfrozen water. If water intake is limited, hay intake is reduced and ruminal fermentation is affected. 
  • Feed cattle relatively close to their water source. The farther away the water source, the longer they will wait to get a drink.
  • Unrolling low-quality hay as bedding will provide some relief from the extreme temperatures.


Paul Beck discusses management of cattle in cold weather on SunUpTV from February 6, 2021.



Cold Weather Nutrition for Beef Cows

Dana Zook, Oklahoma State University Extension NW Area Livestock Specialist


Last year, I mentioned to my husband that I wished the weather was more characteristic of the season.  This year, I believe Santa may be sending winter weather from the North Pole so he will feel right at home while he makes his Christmas deliveries.  Cattle producers know that cold temperatures mean extra supplement and hay may be needed.  But how much extra feed are we talking about? 


There are many things that impact the ability of cattle to tolerate cold and inclement weather but haircoat and amount of moisture present (rain, sleet, ice, snow) play the biggest role.  In addition, cattle in a body condition under five have less cold tolerance.  All cattle will need extra feed to maintain body condition and manage this environmental stress, but those needs may vary from one group to the next.  


So how much extra nutrition are we talking about?  The Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor is an excellent tool for getting an idea of cold conditions and extra nutrition needed.  According to the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor, a cows energy requirement increases 1% for each degree the index is below 32°.  This energy need would double to 2% if the animal is wet to the skin.  A good energy value to refer to is total digestible nutrients or TDN.  Let’s look at the forecast for a realistic example.  


The Mesonet is reporting below normal temperatures for the next 8-14 days, however it looks like our coldest temps will come on Thursday.  If the temperature is 20° and there is no moisture, cattle will need an additional 12% energy to maintain body condition (32°-20° = 12°; 12°x 1%= 12% added energy).  Cold plus moisture would cause the requirement to double to 24%.  


So how much would producers need to feed gestating cows to meet this increased requirement?  In the table below, supplements are listed according to the temperature and level of moisture.  As the temperatures decrease and moisture is added, more feed is required to maintain condition. 


On a normal day, a producer feeding a low-quality prairie hay (6% protein; 52% TDN) would need to feed 3 pounds of a 20% cube or 1.6 pounds of a 38% supplement to meet requirements.  


Daily Supplement Required to Meet Cow Nutritional Requirements in Cold Weather

Temp 20% Supplement (lbs.) 38% Supplement (lbs.)
Above 32° 1.6 
20° Dry Cold 3.36  1.8
20° Wet Cold 3.72 2


In certain situations where higher levels of supplement are fed, increasing feed allotments may cause some digestive upset if fed all at once.  In these situations, it may be beneficial to increase slightly a few days before and then again a few days after the storm.  Also, cows that are normally fed just twice or three times per week may benefit from feeding more often to distribute higher feeding levels.  A higher quality hay can also bridge the energy gap in these situations, but it is helpful to know the hay quality to determine feeding level. 


Check out the Mesonet Cattle Comfort Advisor to get an idea of cold stress for beef cows in the coming week.


Paul Beck discusses feeding of cattle in cold weather on SunUpTV from February 20, 2021.

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