Livestock, veterinary experts explain heat-related deaths of Kansas cattle

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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) – Thousands of cattle are dead after extreme heat and high humidity scorched part of southwest Kansas last weekend. Many asked about video circulating social media that shows rows of finished cattle that suffered heat stress.

The video, showing hundreds of dead cattle, has racked up hundreds of thousands of views online. Industry experts, the KDHE and the Kansas Livestock Association confirm thousands of cattle in the Ulysses area have died since last weekend. Thursday afternoon, a feed yard consultant who spoke with Eyewitness News confirmed the video was taken at a lot in southwest Kansas. He said he’s seen it himself, and many feed yards in the Ulysses area have had cattle die from the extreme heat.

When it comes to dealing with heat, large animal veterinarian Dr. Jess Shearer, with Hillsboro Animal Clinic, said cattle usually are resilient.

“Usually, these first weeks of June are when we see these animals get hit with it,” she said.

Cattle in the Sunflower State are used to coping with heat and humidity. There have been hotter stretches in Kansas, but what made this situation stand out in a detrimental way for the cattle’s health has to do, in part, with the recent rain ahead of the heat wave.

The rain made the pens muddy. Humidity was higher than normal. There was no breeze and temperatures in parts of southwest Kansas spiked well beyond 100 degrees.

Beef expert Corbitt Wall said all of this could have made temperatures in feedlot pens much higher.

“The guys take good care of the cattle. It’s no different than having a bad winter storm, it just happens,” Wall said.

Considering that cattle by and large are used to summer heat, some questioned whether there was more to the cattle deaths than experts explained.

“There’s no conspiracy. When all those things come together, that sometimes happens,” Dr. Shearer said of the factors contributing to the cattle deaths.

Many were market-ready cattle, weighing in well beyond 1,000 pounds. On top of that, the year overall had been cooler than normal prior to the recent heatwave and the cattle weren’t adjusted to the temperature spike, still shedding winter coats.

“Recently, what we’ve seen very high temperatures throughout the day, and the temperatures at night aren’t getting very low. When the animals can’t cool off at night, the stress really catches up with them,” Dr. Shearer said.

Wall said while the numbers may seem shocking (at least 2,000 cattle killed), it’s important to keep in mind that some feedlots hold up to 120,000 head of cattle.

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