Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include comments provided by Tyson.
Meatpackers are preparing for another strong arctic weather front in the coming days following a week of freezing conditions that affected livestock farmers and slowed production.
In a weather outlook, U.S. Department of Agriculture meteorologist Brad Rippey reported that a “final strong push of modified Arctic air” will arrive across the Northern Plains, Midwest and East over the next few days. Sub-zero temperatures will persist through Sunday in some parts of the country before a warming trend occurs, he said.
Last week, three of the largest beef and poultry processors — Tyson Foods, Cargill and Wayne-Sanderson Farms — temporarily halted production in Kansas and the Southeast due to inclement weather. Some operations have returned to normal, while others are still scaling back production and experiencing delivery slowdowns from the icy roads.
An unusual blast of cold weather has sent farmers scrambling to protect their livestock, and the frigid temperatures have also affected meatpacking operations.
Ranchers often stock up on cattle rations and bedding to make their animals comfortable, Scarlett Madinger, vice president of communications for the Kansas Livestock Association, said in a recent interview with KSNW. They also go out and bust ice, whether it be a pond or a water tank, so the cattle have access to fresh water, she said.
Food companies are also making adjustments to the cold weather. Last week, two beef processing plants in Kansas operated by Tyson and Cargill temporarily halted production, affecting a combined capacity of 12,000 head of cattle due to snow storms. The number of cattle slaughtered declined more than 25% week over week before the plants resumed production, according to USDA.
As the second round of arctic weather rolls across the country, companies said they are navigating it the best they can.
Thus far, there has been minimal disruption to Cargill’s U.S. operations and the company is “committed to minimizing any impact to our customers,” spokesperson Bridge Christenson said in an email. “At some of our protein facilities we’ve had to adjust our production schedules to work around delayed cattle deliveries.”
After several poultry plant closures and modified shifts across the Southeast, Sanderson-Wayne Farms is scheduled to reopen its Decatur, Alabama facility on Friday with a two-hour delay to start the first shift. All other affected plants have returned to normal operations, spokesperson Frank Singleton said in an email.
Sanderson-Wayne Farms is making animal welfare and safe operations a top priority during this cold snap, Singleton said. The company’s poultry are raised in climate-controlled barns and during transport, the cages are wrapped in a protective barrier to minimize the weather’s impact.
“For the safety of our team members, we have temporarily scaled back operations at some of our locations impacted by the storm and we’re working to fulfill customer orders at other locations,” a Tyson spokesperson said in an email Friday.