How livestock cope with extreme heat

NORTH PLATTE, Neb. (KNOP) – As temperatures warm across Nebraska, humans aren’t the only ones feeling the effects.

Livestock on the farm spend the majority of their lives outdoors in the elements and must also find ways to stay cool.

Last week, at least 2,000 cattle died in southwest Kansas due to high temperatures and humidity. When high humidity levels are seen with warm air, it tends to make the air even warmer.

Randy Saner of the University of Nebraska, extension office in North Platte, said: ‘What happens is that when we have cool weather but then we have these hot days where it doesn’t cool the night so we have 102, 105 and we get nights that are around 80 and then we get high humidity, those are all issues we need to look at.

Randy Saner strokes a cow(Randy Saner petting a cow)

If cattle are not given the opportunity to cool off at night, major problems arise. This does not give cattle time to drink more water or lower their core temperature.

“This high humidity is a problem because the cattle don’t blow off the wind. We also have black surfaces, so if you’re in a feed yard, you have a dark surface that sheds heat.

Heat transfer is a fundamental thing that always happens, even when stationary.

Heat can be transmitted to livestock directly from solar radiation. When this radiation hits the ground, it is also reflected back to the animal. Cattle are also always in contact with the ground, and this contact also allows heat transfer between the two. This doesn’t mean someone with bigger feet will get more heat from the ground, but if a cow is lying on the ground rather than standing on it, that’s where it comes in. If the wind is blowing, it can help cool or warm an animal.

Cattle also have a special process in their stomachs that generates heat when they eat. Things like panting, sweating, and drinking are the easiest way for an animal like cattle to lie down.

Cattle heat transfer infographic
Cattle heat transfer infographic(Cattle heat transfer infographic)

Because water is such an important part of cooling cattle, Saner also mentioned that cattle water consumption increases sharply during hot spells as they try to cool down.

Saner said: “Water consumption roughly doubles on very hot days. It is therefore very important to have plenty of water available.

We also spoke to Lincoln County Feed Yards owner Steve Scholz.

“We try to use good breeding. We keep cattle free range in hot weather, as long as we don’t keep them in pens. We try to minimize animal movements. We try not to pass the processing through the processing barn. If we have to do something, we do it early in the morning when it’s much cooler. But the biggest problem is adequate water.

Steve Scholz walking through a cattle pen
Steve Scholz walking through a cattle pen(Steve Scholz walking through cattle pen)

Scholz told us he was aware of what happened in Kansas.

“It would be devastating. They’re trying to do their normal things and you’re putting an emotionally difficult workload on them, I’m sure, being in a situation like that. It’s carnage that needs to be taken out and picked up.

Scholz also said, “When you look at it, the total loss to the feed court wasn’t very large… It’s still devastating, don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t as huge as it sounds. The other problem is that when something like this starts happening, it’s hard to get around to that many cattle.

Scholz also added that while most ranchers, himself included, have catastrophe insurance for their herds, heat-related deaths aren’t covered even if winter weather conditions are.

Cattle standing on top of a hill to feel the breeze
Cattle standing on top of a hill to feel the breeze(Cattle standing on top of a hill to feel the breeze)

There are many ways to prepare a herd for heat. According to Saner, although the wind can be a nuisance for herders, it is an important factor in cooling the cattle.

Saner said, “The windy days really help us in the feedlots as well as the pastures, although we don’t like them because they get old sometimes, but they are good.”

Walking around the extension office pasture to see the cattle, Saner pointed out how the cattle stand on top of a hill so they can easily get some wind they wouldn’t get if they were down below. from the hill.

Saner added: “These creatures are so much smarter than a lot of people realize.”

Shade is also a good thing, as long as the trees providing shade are high enough off the ground, they don’t obstruct the wind.

Saner stressed how important it is to be prepared when you see the combination of high temperatures and humidity. He also recommended installing sprinklers and keeping the cattle pen clean, as trash can store heat. A full list of recommendations provided by Saner can be found here.

Steve Scholz inspecting his herd
Steve Scholz inspecting his herd(Steve Scholz inspecting his herd)

Scholz ended the interview by saying, “In a place with a weather anomaly like them, that’s going to be the defining part of the outcome in what happens. I don’t know if there was anything he really could have done about it.

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