Heat wave proves deadly for Nebraska cattle

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Over 2,000 cattle died throughout eight counties in Nebraska last week as a result of an unexpected heat wave. Officials estimate that number could grow as other counties report in.

According to Tim Reimer of the United States Farm Service Agency, cattle nearing slaughter are difficult to keep cool due to their large size, and thus more vulnerable to heat. The animals are provided large quantities of water, but they sometimes stop drinking under the effects of the high temperatures.

The deaths worsened the situation for farmers, who were already struggling with high feed costs. "There were some that took some pretty substantial hits financially", Reimer said.

Temperatures in eastern portions of the state soared into the mid 90s. The heat wave was preceded by an unusually cool spring, so the animals didn't have a chance to acclimatise. Terry Mader, a professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, reported that "Cattle, as well as other animals and humans, usually need two to four weeks to adapt to the changes in environmental conditions we observed last week. Sunny days with temperatures above the mid-80s can be stressful, particularly if there is no wind and humidity is above 50%."

Similar heat waves occurred during the 1990s, when thousands of cattle were lost. Mader noted, "There's no opportunity for them to get prepared [...] Normally, you'll have one to two days in a heat wave to get prepared."

Mature cattle are generally worth US$1,000 apiece.


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