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Lethal weather
Joe Barron


Heat proving too much for livestock
July 19, 2010 @ 9:36pm

The recent heat wave is taking a deadly toll on the Golden Belt livestock industry, with reports of hundreds of cattle succumbing to the extreme summer weather since last Friday.

"We've had some issues, no doubt about it," said Andrew Murphy, chief operating officer of Great Bend-based Innovative Livestock, which operates four feedyards in Kansas. "It's been extreme and that's not a good thing."

"It's rare to have this many cattle die," said Dr. Matt Fehr, a veterinarian with the Animal Medical Center in Great Bend. This is the worst I've seen."

Hot summers are not uncommon in Kansas and cattle are pretty hardy animals, but the problem has been the thermal heat index, said Dr. Dan Thomson, director of the Beef Cattle Institute at Kansas State University. This factors in the temperature, humidity and wind.

With the mercury topping 90 degrees under current conditions, cattle are under increased heat stress. Evenings bring little relief as warm temperatures linger throughout the night.

This is often referred during media weather forecasts where humans are advised to stay inside. But, "cattle can't go into the air conditioning," Thomson said.

The weather has been an issue in lots from central Kansas eastward, where the humidity is higher. The animals in feedlots are at greater risk since they are being "finished" and are at their heaviest. "The heavier they are, the more susceptible they are," Thomas said.

"This is also barbecue season," he said. This means there is increased demand for beef so lot population densities are higher and lots are more crowded.

Thirsty, the cattle bunch up around water tanks. As the animal crowd together, it only increases the heat.

"High temperatures and lack of air movement have placed a high degree of stress on the cattle in our area," Murphy said. "It is very important to note that we are working extremely close with our consulting veterinarians and nutritionists to expedite our ability to manage the situation in the best manner possible."

In a statement to the media, Murphy said their losses have been between 1 and 2 percent at their Kansas facilities. Some of the lots run over 20,000 head of cattle.

"We are making sure that water and other cooling techniques are being used quickly and efficiently," Murphy said. "Our people have been literally working around the clock to do the best job possible to make the cattle as comfortable as possible. The cattle's welfare and the welfare of our employees is our primary concern going through this extreme weather pattern."

That's another factor that must be considered. It can start to wear on the employees.

"We've been really fortunate," said Heidi Jo Burton at Mid America Feeders of Great Bend. The facility, which has about 12,000 cattle, has lost only about 24 or so animals. Mid America has installed sprinklers to help keep the cattle cool.

There are other measures feed lot personnel implement. For example, misters and shade structures are used, and cattle are not moved. In addition, electrolytes are added to the water and bedding is used to help insulate the cattle from the warm soil.

Although there are a lot of practices already in place, "we continue to do a lot of research on this," Thomson said.

Researchers are identifying risk factors, such as weight, optimal pen sizes, best use of water, coat color and gender. "The answers are not as clear cut as one might think."

"It's our job to take care of these animals," said Dr. Nels Lindberg, also with Animal Medical Center. He was out in the heat Monday afternoon working with producers. What's more, "these animals are worth a lot of money. We're going to actively manage these animals the best we can."

The emphasis may be on cattle, but Lindberg said the weather is hard on all animals.