The United States has experienced record-breaking, torrid heat this summer — the levels of which bore deadly consequences last month for cattle on feedlots in Iowa, Nebraska, and Kansas.
State officials have recently reported that, in July, hundreds (or perhaps even thousands) of cattle died across those three states when heat coupled with humidity caused heat indexes to skyrocket, making it hard on everyone, but especially for cattle.
Iowa’s Department of Natural Resources told Reuters it received a request on July 31 “to dispose of approximately 370 cows that died due to heat in western Iowa.” However, things look even more grim. The Iowa Cattlemen’s Association has reported that as many as 4,000 cattle have passed away across the state.
During the heat event, the heat index rose in Carroll, Iowa, to 117 degrees on July 28, according to the National Weather Service. The humidity, combined with a lack of airflow and torrid temperatures, is the perfect storm for susceptible animals.
While the number of cattle reported as lost in Iowa is just a small slice of the 630,000 head that the fifth-largest cattle-producing state had in feedlots as of July 1, the sudden losses were unsettling.
According to Reuters, Kansas received requests for the disposal of at least 50 head of cattle. Even so, that number pales compared to the thousands lost last June during a surprise heat event.
Meanwhile, producers are doing what they can to keep cattle cool, mitigating losses by moving more heat-susceptible to pens with more shade and deploying fans, and misters where they’re available.
Kansas State University has also developed both a Current Animal Comfort Index and a seven-day forecast for comfort available for reference named the Kansas Mesonet.
Amid the record highs in temperatures, record-high cattle prices have producers and officials scrambling to ensure they can afford to stay in the game.
In response to the livestock losses, Michael J. Flood, a representative from Nebraska, penned a letter to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack asking that the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Farm Service Administration respond quickly to producers and process applications for assistance.
Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen also called Vilsack to discuss the livestock losses, requesting payment for producers as soon as possible.
Currently, the FSA’s Livestock Indemnity Program only provides coverage of up to 75 percent of the animal’s value. Producers who have experienced losses can file an “Application for Payment” before October 1.
Even though the total number of animals lost has not been officially tallied yet, cattle numbers heading to processing were already predicted to be undoubtedly lower in the near future.
Severe droughts across the Western United States, coupled with increasing feed costs, have led to dispersals and herd shrinkage, with 3 percent fewer cows and heifers producing calves this year.
»Related: U.S. cattle inventory falls to the lowest level in decades