More than 1,500 cattle in SD reported dead due to heat

People aren't the only animals suffering in this extreme heat. State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said at least 1,500 head of cattle have died across South Dakota during the prolonged excessive hot spell, with temperatures routinely hitting the ...

People aren't the only animals suffering in this extreme heat.

State Veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven said at least 1,500 head of cattle have died across South Dakota during the prolonged excessive hot spell, with temperatures routinely hitting the high 90s and sometimes topping the century mark across the state.

"Unfortunately, there are probably more than that," Oedekoven said Tuesday. "That's what's been reported to my office."

According to a Mitchell Livestock Auction Co. employee, fat cattle - defined as livestock that have been in a feedlot for 100 days or more - sold last week for more than $1,500 for a steer and up to $2,000 for a heifer. That means the loss statewide may well top $2 million.

"That's exactly right," Oedekoven said. "Prices are some of the highest ever right now. It's concerning right now. This is alarming for sure."


Some cattle owners may have insurance, although Oedekoven said that's not common. Farmers who lost cattle to the heat may be able to get assistance from the Farm Service Agency's indemnity program, he said.

Oedekoven said the extreme heat and humidity have simply overwhelmed the cattle, especially in areas where there is little or no wind. Hot, humid nights have added to the toll, he said, terming it "a recipe for disaster."

The animals are dying of heat exhaustion, Oedekoven said. Their bodies simply can't cool down, and they die.

There are some reports of a large number of deaths in one location. In Estelline, 200 cattle died in a feedlot outside of the small Hamlin County town, Oedekoven said.

Normally, the industry standard is a 1 or 2 percent fatality rate annually in a feedlot, he said. Oedekoven said there have been no reports of the heat killing other livestock.

"Cattle are all that has been coming to my office so far," he said.

Lakeview Veterinary Clinic veterinarian Dr. Joni Kniffen, of Mitchell, said she has not heard of any cattle dying in the area in the last few days.

"Not that I am aware of," Kniffen said. "Farmers are working their cattle in the early-morning hours, doing vaccinations, treating, anything kind of like that."


Another veterinarian said there are reports of cattle losses in the broader region, however.

Farmers are keeping their cattle in the shade, providing them with water and sprinkling them to keep them cool, Kniffen said. But she wasn't surprised to hear of the hundreds of cattle that died. That's always a risk this time of year, especially when cattle are being moved or worked.

Oedekoven said cattle create a great deal of heat when eating, so producers are advised to feed them at night to reduce the heat generated.

Mitchell Livestock Auction Company owner Don Stange said producers are taking precautions with their cattle and are moving fewer to market.

Stange, who said no cattle have died at his business, said his sales are down 75 to 80 percent this week, and that's fine with him. South Dakota State University Extension has advised cattle owners not to move their cattle this week, and Stange said his firm offers the same advice to its customers.

"We tell, them, too, if you don't have to sell this week, wait until next week when it cools off," he said.

Far fewer fat cattle have been sold this week, Stange said. He said a few "kill cattle," older cattle that are being culled from a herd, have been sold in morning auctions.

"This week has been as tough as we have seen," Stange said. "Cattle tolerate one or two days, but if it stays hot for three days, and it doesn't cool off in the nighttime, if it stays above 80, they just don't cool off and it's hard to get them to cool off."


He said the animals die of heat exhaustion, just like people.

Mitchell Livestock Auction has sprinkler systems in pens, with a 3,000-gallon tank and a 1,600-gallon tank to spray cattle while they load and before they go into the ring and after they leave it.

A 300-gallon tank on skid loaders takes water to the pens to ensure the cattle have all the water they need, Stange said.

South Dakota State University Extension beef feedlot specialist Ben Holland said cattle in feedlots are especially vulnerable to the heat.

"Providing shade can reduce the amount of heat accumulation in cattle, but it is important to remember that shade is more effective when adequate air movement through the shaded areas is possible," Holland said in an SDSU news release.

"The most important thing cattle feeders can do to help cattle cool off at night is by sprinkling mounds in dirt pens late in the evening or at night," he said. "This provides a cool place for cattle to lie down, allowing the heat to dissipate. Cattle can be sprayed directly during the day as well, but if cattle are sprayed, large water droplets should be used. Too fine a mist will only add humidity and make problems worse."

Symptoms of heat stress in animals range from mild to severe as conditions worsen.

Initially, animals will increase their respiratory rate in an attempt to cool themselves. Increased salivation and open-mouth breathing will commence, and in severe cases of heat stroke, animals will become uncoordinated, weak, and go down and not be able to rise, according to SDSU.


When these latter symptoms hit, recovery is unlikely.

Some animals will likely be more severely affected than others. Producers should pay close attention to dark-hided animals, fleshy animals, or animals with histories of respiratory disease.

Heat stress symptoms peak in the early evening hours after the animal's body attempts to regulate its temperature and fails.

"The most important thing is to be prepared to take steps to intervene before severe signs of heat stress manifest themselves," Holland said.

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