Last month, Nebraska experienced its worst rash of cattle deaths since 2009, including that of about 3,000 cattle within just a few hours on July 9 in central Nebraska.
Some estimate the one-day loss at about $4.5 million.
And can anything be done to prevent such losses in the future?
Richard Randle, an associate professor with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, took time out of his schedule this past week to discuss with The Fence Post that dark day for the state’s cattle industry.
Randle received his D.V.M. degree from Mississippi State University in 1982, and, now at UNL, specializes in beef cow/calf production management.
Below are portions of that conversation.
Q. So, what happened earlier this summer that led to such a loss for Nebraska’s cattle industry?
A: It was the weather.
We came into the month experiencing nice conditions — not too hot, certainly for July.
And then all of the sudden, we had extremely high temperatures, along with a lot of humidity.
Cattle can take the summer heat, but they have a difficult time handling such extreme changes.
We had about two to three days of extreme heat.
The day when those deaths occurred was on that first day of the heat, because they hadn’t had time to adjust to it.
In addition to the heat, there was no wind.
Q. The weather across the High Plains is always extreme. Do Nebraska producers see these potentially harmful shifts in temperature during other times of the year, aside from the peak of summer? For example, are temperatures during this time of the year — late August and into September — ever extreme enough to have such an impact on cattle?
A. By this time of the year — and even normally in the peak of summer — it usually cools off enough at night to offset what extreme upswings in temperatures cattle might be dealing with.
That just wasn’t the case during those three days in July.
There just wasn’t any relief.
Q. Not being able to control the weather, what can producers do to prevent such losses?
A. There are all kinds of things that can be done, and we (University of Nebraska-Lincoln) have a number of sources regarding such efforts.
Making sure cattle have some source of shade nearby; sources of water; there are sprinkler systems that can spray cattle down when needed.
Airflow, too, is very critical. Making sure cattle are placed in an area where there’s airflow is as important as anything ... and some times overlooked.
Q. Even if the heat isn’t fatal for the cattle, can a milder degree of overheating impact cattle and producers?
A. Stressed cattle eat less, and don’t put on the weight producers like to see. Even if it’s not life-threatening heat, it’s always in the producer’s best interest to keep cattle as comfortable as possible.
Q. Everyone, including climatologist, talk a lot about the weather becoming increasingly extreme in the future. Are instances of extreme heat — like the conditions that caused the July 9 deaths — becoming more of a concern for producers?
A. I’m not sure I can answer that. You hear that issue talked about, and you hear the question asked. But I’m not sure anyone really knows if we’re going to see more of these conditions or not.
“If you’re a producer, you just have to have best-management practices in place and be ready for anything. ❖