Heat stress is responsible for thousands of livestock deaths in Kansas

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Thousands of cattle in feedlots in southwestern Kansas have died of heat stress due to high temperatures, high humidity and lack of wind in recent years. days, industry officials said.

The final figure remains unclear, but as of Thursday at least 2,000 heat-related deaths had been reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state agency that helps dispose of dead bodies. Agency spokesman Matt Lara said he expects that number to rise as more feedlots report losses from this week’s heat wave.

The cattle deaths have prompted unsubstantiated reports on social media and elsewhere that more than the weather is at play, but Kansas agriculture officials said there is no indication of any other cause.

“This was a true weather event — it was isolated to a specific region in southwestern Kansas,” said AJ Tarpoff, a Kansas State University livestock veterinarian. “Yes, the temperatures did go up, but the biggest reason it was damaging was that you had a big increase in humidity…and at the same time, the wind speeds actually dropped substantially, which is rare in the west. of Kansas”.

Last week, temperatures hovered in the 70s and 80s, but on Saturday they topped 100 degrees, said Scarlett Hagins, a spokeswoman for the Kansas Cattle Association.

“And it was that sudden change that didn’t allow the cattle to acclimatize that caused the heat stress problems in them,” he said.

The deaths represent a huge economic loss because the animals, which normally weigh about 1,500 pounds, are worth about $2,000 a head, Hagins said. Federal disaster programs will help some growers who have suffered losses, she added.

And the worst may be over. Nighttime temperatures have been cooler, and as long as there’s a breeze, the animals can recover, Tarpoff said.

Hagins said heat-related deaths in the industry are rare because ranchers take precautions like providing extra drinking water, altering feeding times so animals don’t digest during the heat of the day, and using sprinkler systems to cool them down.

“Heat stress is always a concern this time of year for cattle, so mitigation protocols have been put in place to be prepared for this type of thing,” he said.

Many cattle had not yet shed their winter coats when the heat wave hit.

“This is a one in 10 years, 20 years kind of event. This is not a normal event,” said Brandon Depenbusch, feedlot operator for Innovative Livestock Services in Great Bend, Kansas. “It’s extremely abnormal, but it happens.”

While his feedlot had “zero problems,” he noted that his part of the state didn’t have the same combination of high temperatures, high humidity, low winds and no cloud cover that plagues southwestern Kansas.

Elsewhere, ranchers have not been as affected.

The Nebraska Department of Agriculture and Nebraska ranchers said they have received no reports of higher-than-normal cattle deaths in the state, despite a 100-plus-degree heat index this week.

Oklahoma City National Stockyards President Kelli Payne said no cattle deaths have been reported since temperatures topped 90 degrees last Saturday, after rising from the mid-70s as of June 1. .

“We have water and sprinklers here to help mitigate the heat and the heat wave,” Payne said, but “we don’t have any control over that pesky mother nature.”

Roxana Hegeman, Associated Press


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