Sudden death: The great Kansan cattle disaster

Humans are suffering from the scorching heat of this summer. It was over 105 degrees in my backyard this past week, and I will tell you that I hope it doesn’t happen again! It is not only debilitating, but it leaves you with a feeling that the world is out of control.

And that may be true!

I can’t imagine what it’s like for animals dealing with that heat. Not only are most of them, especially farm animals, in the outdoors daily, but they have a fur coat – and who knows what that feels like to them. I know what it feels like for a human to be wearing clothes in this heat.

I can’t imagine how animals feel when their only recourse is to find a shady spot to hide.

As the heat wave has spread across the country, cattle ranches have been hit especially hard, and the result is the deaths of literally thousands of head of cattle. While the death figures vary from state to state, Kansas has been especially hard hit.

According to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, at least 2,000 heat-related cattle deaths have been reported. It’s believed the actual death count is far higher. Officials say that the thousands of deaths are the result of heat stress due to the searing temperatures, high humidity and little wind.

According to A.J. Tarnoff, a cattle veterinarian with Kansas State University, the situation was made worse by a spike of high humidity and the fact that the wind virtually disappeared. He said that such a situation is rare in that part of the state. The sudden change in the weather didn’t give the animals a chance to adapt to the heat, and as a result they suffered great stress, which killed them.

Ranchers take precautions to protect their herds during usual summer heat – providing extra drinking water, modifying feeding schedules so the animals aren’t digesting during the heat of the day, and in many cases, using sprinkler systems to cool the animals down.

It’s reported that generally these precautions are in place so when there is excessive heat, the animals are protected.

This year, the heat was so intense and unexpected and the pattern of day and night cooling so unusual, that the result has been a huge loss of bovine life.

This year, in addition to the intense daytime heat and the lack of evening cooling, there has been the fact that many of the animals had not shed their winter coats, which made them more vulnerable to the terrible heat.

The loss of the animals for the ranchers has been a major financial hit. The animals, which weigh on average 1,500 pounds, generally are worth about $2,000 per head. To lose so many is a financial disaster for many ranches, even with the possibility that some may benefit from federal disaster relief.

The worse may be over as night-time temperatures have dropped, giving some relief. What’s interesting, is that the situation is just in certain parts of Kansas.

Brandon Depenbusch, who operates the Livestock Services Feedlot in Great Bend, Kansas, says, “This is a one in 10-year, 20-year event. It is extremely abnormal, but it does happen.” In fact, he said, his own feed lot had no problems because his part of the state didn’t have the same high temperatures, high humidity, low winds and no cloud cover that other Kansas areas endured.

In fact, other cattle states have not reported such massive deaths either, likely because of not having the same combination of weather patterns.

The president of the Oklahoma City National Stockyards, Kelli Payne, said no cattle deaths have been reported since the temperatures topped at 90 degrees.

According to her, “We have water and sprinklers here to help mitigate heat and the heat wave, but we don’t have any control over that pesky Mother Nature.”

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This article was originally published by the WND News Center.

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