Heat stress is blamed for thousands of cattle deaths in Kansas

BELLE PLAINE, Kan. (AP) — Thousands of cattle in feedlots in southwestern Kansas have died in recent days from heat stress due to rising temperatures, high humidity and little wind, industry officials said.

The final number remains unclear, but as of Thursday, at least 2,000 heat-related deaths were reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, the state agency that helps dispose of cadavers. Agency spokesman Matt Lara said he expects that number to increase as more feedlots report losses from this week’s heatwave.

The cattle death has sparked unsubstantiated reports on social media and elsewhere that something other than the weather is at play, but Kansas agriculture officials said there was no indication of any other cause.

“This was a real weather event — it was localized to a specific region in southwestern Kansas,” said AJ Tarpoff, a livestock veterinarian at Kansas State University. “Yes, temperatures were rising, but the more important reason it was detrimental was because we had a huge increase in humidity… and at the same time, wind speeds actually dropped significantly, which is rare for western Kansas.”

Temperatures last week were in the 70s and 80s, but on Saturday they rose to over 100 degrees, said Scarlett Hagins, spokeswoman for the Kansas Livestock Association.

“And it was this sudden change in not allowing the cattle to acclimate that gave them heat stress problems,” she said.

The deaths represent a huge economic loss because the animals, which typically weigh about 1,500 pounds, are worth about $2,000 a head, Hagins said. Federal disaster programs will help some producers who have suffered a loss, she added.

And the worst could be over. Nighttime temperatures were cooler and — as long as there’s a breeze — the animals are able to recover, Tarpoff said.

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