BEAUTIFUL PLAIN, Kan.
Thousands of cattle at feedlots in southwestern Kansas have died of heat stress due to rising temperatures, high humidity and little wind in recent days, state officials said. industry.
The final toll remains uncertain, 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 assists with carcass disposal. Agency spokesman Matt Lara said he expects that number to rise as more feedlots report losses from this week’s heat wave.
The livestock deaths have sparked unsubstantiated reports on social media and elsewhere that something other than weather is at stake, but Kansas agriculture officials said there was no indication of a other cause.
“This was a real weather event – it was isolated to a specific area in southwestern Kansas,” said AJ Tarpoff, a livestock veterinarian at Kansas State University. “Yes, the temperatures rose, but the most important reason why it was harmful was that we had a huge humidity spike…and at the same time the wind speed dropped dramatically, which is rare for western Kansas.
Temperatures last week were in the 70s and 80s, but on Saturday they topped 100 degrees, said Kansas Livestock Association spokeswoman Scarlett Hagins.
“And it was this sudden change that didn’t allow the cattle to acclimatize that caused heat stress issues for them,” she said.
The deaths represent a huge economic loss because the animals, which typically weigh around 1,500 pounds, are worth around $2,000 a head, Hagins said. Federal disaster programs will help some producers who have suffered a loss, she added.
And the worst may be over. Nighttime temperatures have been cooler and — as long as there is a breeze — the animals are able to recover, Tarpoff said.
Hagins said heat-related deaths in the industry are rare because farmers take precautions such as providing extra drinking water, changing feeding schedules so animals don’t digest during the heat of the day and use sprinkler systems to cool them down.
“Heat stress is always a concern at this time of year for cattle so they have mitigation protocols in place to prepare for that sort of thing,” she said.
Many cattle had still not lost their winter coat when the heat wave hit.
“It’s a 10-year, 20-year type event. This is not a normal occurrence,” said Brandon Depenbusch, feedlot operator of Innovative Livestock Services in Great Bend, Kansas. “It’s extremely abnormal, but it happens.”
While his feedlot had “no issues,” he noted his part of the state didn’t have the same combination of high temperatures, high humidity, low winds and no cover. cloudy weather that was hitting southwestern Kansas.
Elsewhere, cattle ranchers have not been so hard hit.
The Nebraska Department of Agriculture and Nebraska Ranchers said they have received no reports of above-normal livestock deaths in the state, despite a heat index well above 100 degrees this week.
Oklahoma City National Stockyards President Kelli Payne said no livestock deaths have been reported since temperatures topped 90 degrees last Saturday, after rising from the mid-70s from June 1.
“We have water and sprinklers here to help alleviate the heat and the heat wave,” Payne said, but “we have no control over this damn Mother Nature.”