HASKELL COUNTY, Kan. (KSNW) — At least 2,000 head of cattle died during the heat in southwest Kansas last weekend, an estimated $4 million loss.
According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE), extreme weather is to blame for the deaths.
“The combination of high temperatures, humidity, and not a lot of wind made it difficult for the cows to stay cool,” Matt Lara, KDHE communications director, said.
The high temperature was 102 degrees in and around Garden City and Dodge City on Saturday and Sunday, according to KSN.
Dr. Miles Theurer, a veterinarian, works with 16 feed lots in Kansas, 10 of which were impacted by those extreme conditions.
Dr. Theurer says that in his six-year career in the feed yard industry, he has never seen conditions like this that led to what he calls the perfect storm.
“I hope I never have to see anything like it again,” Dr. Theurer said. “Being out there with the crews, it’s very demoralizing.”
At several feed lots in Haskell County, crews worked nonstop to provide extra water tanks and bedding for livestock, prioritizing pens in need of the most care.
“The sad part was that most of these cattle were nearing the end point of near harvest,” Dr. Theurer said.
“Our normal death losses, on a typical, you know, month basis, we would be in that one to one-and-a-half percent range … we’re well above those numbers,” Justin Waggoner, a beef cattle specialist with Kansas State University Extension, said.
J. Tarpoff, a beef veterinarian with Kansas State University Research and Extension, said cattle will often acclimate to hot temperatures, but factors like humidity, diet, and even the color of their hide, can drastically change their ability to handle the heat.
“Each animal within a group or pen is not affected the same way,” he said. “Animals with higher body condition scores, or with darker hides, or finisher steers and heifers that are getting ready to go to harvest are at higher risk of heat stress.”
Tarpoff said ranchers and feedlot operators can do things to help cattle survive the heat.
“This all has to do with heat load,” he said. “The internal temperature of cattle will peak two hours after the hottest point of the day. So our strategy for keeping cows cool needs to be built around knowing that.”
He said cattle also produce heat about four to six hours after eating.
“So if we feed animals within the wrong period of time, we can actually increase their heat load because the heat of digestion and the heat from the environment are building on top of each other,” Tarpoff said. “We want to keep that from happening.”
According to the Kansas Livestock Association, the effects of this devastating blow to feed lots will not be felt by consumers.
“This will not create any kind of supply chain issues. They’re going to continue to see plenty of beef in their meat case. This should not create a pricing issue,” Scarlett Hagins with the Kansas Livestock Association (KLA) said.
Despite the rarity of events of this scale, Dr. Theurer says staying proactive is key.
“This was something from a weather event that, I mean, hasn’t happened in the, in this area, [that] I know of, [in] the last 60 years, and so, that’s how we have to think about that as well in the future,” Dr. Theurer said.