MANHATTAN, Kan. â€“ Compared to people, cattle have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to handling some kinds of heat. Soaring temperatures and high humidity are taking a deadly toll, a Kansas State University veterinarian said.
â€œCattle lack the ability to sweat significantly, so it is critical that producers and livestock handlers take steps to reduce heat stress before conditions become dangerous,â€ said K-State Research and Extension veterinarian Larry Hollis. â€œHigh daytime temperature by itself rarely causes problems. It is a combination of the humidity with heat that creates the maximum heat load on cattle.â€
He cited this monthâ€™s reports in Kansas of hundreds of cattle deaths attributed to the weather mix. Temperatures well into the 90 F range coupled with high humidity levels to push heat indices to 105 degrees or above.Â
Other factors compounded the cattleâ€™s lack of ability to perspire. Several days in a row of high temperatures, a lack of nighttime cooling, lack of shade or cloud cover, lack of wind, lack of air movement in pens, and grazing on endophyte-infested fescue pastures can all create problems for cattle, Hollis said.
In addition, animals with dark hides and/or heavy body weights, as well as those in advanced stages of pregnancy are particularly vulnerable to the consequences of such weather.
â€œProducers should watch for signs of heat-related distress during hot, humid weather. The signs can include cattle going off feed, standing with their head over the water source, panting, salivating excessively, or open-mouthed breathing,â€ he added.
Producers and feedlot managers should consider ways to alleviate the stress, when possible, including:
* Avoid gathering or working cattle after mid-morning;
* Provide access to abundant cold water/waterer space and make sure the water flow rate is adequate;
* Provide access to shade;
* Provide the ability to move away from anything that reduces air flow, even cutting down weeds around pens;
* Use sprinklers â€“ wet the skin;
* Control flies;
* Make arrangements with fire department.