Cows across Routt County are dying in droves. What’s killing them? |

Cows across Routt County are dying in droves. What’s killing them?

Kit Geary
Steamboat Pilot & Today
Sam Barnes feeds his cattle on a ranch along Routt County Road 65 Tuesday, April 18, 2023.
John F. Russell/Steamboat Pilot & Today

A perfect storm of irregular weather patterns, wildlife and flooding is causing ranchers across Routt County to lose cattle at an alarming rate.

Some ranchers say they have not had this terrible of a calving season since 2008, which also saw a winter with heavy snow, while others cannot recall a time where it has ever been this bad.

“This calving season has been brutal, downright terrible actually,” said Kyle Monger from the Monger Cattle Company in Hayden.

According to Monger, his ranch has lost about 10% of their calves this season in comparison to the usual 1% the ranch loses each year.

Ranchers all over Routt are also experiencing heavy losses.

Todd Hagenbuch, the Routt County Extension Office agent and director for agriculture in Routt County, keeps tabs on local ranchers, and he noted that multiple operations are having one of the roughest years yet this calving season. 

Owned by Krista and Larry Monger, the Monger Family Ranch in Steamboat is experiencing similar issues as their relatives in Hayden with 8% of their calves dying this season. 

Krista Monger noted the industry average is losing 3% each calving season and said the death toll could go up with 80 cows still slated to give birth this season. 

Calves have been killed for a multitude of reasons and oftentimes die shortly after their birth. Krista Monger said a major issue is cows not taking the necessary steps to keep their calves alive after birth. Many times this can be chalked up to extreme cold weather depleting a mother’s strength.

“The cow and calf cannot lay there for a while after birth,” Krista Monger said. “They immediately have to get up, and the calf needs to be stimulated in order to live.” 

She said that if this process is interrupted, it is very likely the calf will not make it. 

According to Krista Monger, coyotes and magpies have also played a role in calf mortality rates. Not only have coyotes and magpies been killing calves, but mother cows have been accidentally killing their own offspring by trampling them in efforts to defend them.

The calves at Kyle and Doug Monger’s ranch have died for these reasons in addition to drowning immediately after birth by being born into puddles and from endotoxemia, a deadly bacterial disease.  

Hagenbuch explained wetter weather in spring can increase the probability of cows contracting bacterial diseases and viruses, and that has contributed to the death toll this calving season. 

This year, noticeably for the first time, ranchers have been experiencing calves being born blind due to what ranchers believe could be some sort of virus.

Jo Stanko at the Stanko Ranch in Steamboat has contacted a handful of vets searching for an explanation as to why some of the ranch’s calves were born without sight.

“We can tell you a lot of things that are not causing the calves to be blind, we just can’t tell you what is,” Stanko said. 

Stanko said that alongside weather conditions and unknown viruses impacting the cows, depression in mother cows has also caused some of their calves to not survive past birth. She noted that this year especially the cows have been depressed, and Hagenbuch said he has noticed that trend as well. 

“You need some energy to give birth,” Stanko said. “When you are that depressed you don’t have that energy and the calves … do not get stimulated off the bat like they need to and they are dying.”

While some ranches in Routt County are losing their calves, others are losing their cows. 

Holly Barnes at Barnes Outfitting in Hayden detailed losing four cows to the flooding that took place early last week.

“The snow and the ice broke loose, and it just moved the cows down — they couldn’t get away from it,” Barnes noted. “We still haven’t found three of them.” 

To address the high death toll among cows, Kyle and Doug Monger have already performed six “cow adoptions” in order to pair up calves with cows.

Ranchers will utilize certain tactics to familiarize the cows with each other’s scent in hopes of making a makeshift family. Ranchers will do this for a variety of reasons even beyond fatalities, as sometimes some mother cows are healthier than others and better fit to raise a calf. 

This story is from Steamboat Pilot & Today.

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