By Brandi Buzzard Frobose on July 29, 2022

Kansas Heat Causes More Than Just Stress for Livestock

kansas cows

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that it’s miserably hot in Kansas and pretty much everywhere in the world. Earlier this summer, I shared ways cattle farmers and ranchers work to prevent heat stress in their animals in the face of dangerous temperatures, but heat can have other serious effects on livestock and people, even if it doesn’t kill them.  

Thankfully, on our ranch, we haven’t lost any cattle to the heat, but the stresses of summer can have other negative consequences on livestock. For example, when the temperature climbs too high, cattle will seek shade and only graze during the early morning or in the evening. The rest of the time they will relax in the shade or maybe take a dip in a pond, which is great for their welfare but if they aren’t grazing, they aren’t gaining weight or producing milk for their calves. We want our stocker cattle to gain as much weight from the grass as possible so we can sell them to the next rancher in the beef lifecycle. If it’s too hot to eat, however, we can’t do much about it. Similarly, ranchers who have cows who have their babies in the spring will have cow-calf pairs during these sweltering summers, and if the cows aren’t grazing, they aren’t producing as much milk for their calves. Furthermore, extended heat can cause fertility challenges in both bulls and cows.

cows staying cool
Another unintended and devastating side effect of prolonged heat is drought, which is ravaging farms and ranches all over the United States. At the beginning of July, 37 states were experiencing some level of drought and that number may continue to increase. If pastures aren’t receiving moisture to grow grass, cattle will have nothing to eat, and ranchers will have to start feeding harvested hay (which is expensive and  can be hard to find). At some point, ranchers in drought conditions will be forced to make hard decisions about how many cows must be sold based on how much hay they need to get through the winter and early spring. You may have seen a video or news report of cattle trailers lined up on the way to livestock auction barns – sadly, herd reduction happens in times of drought.

A consequence of herd reduction is fewer cows in the beef supply to raise calves and fewer calves means less beef availability. I’m not an experienced economist, however, fall of 2023 and into the early part of 2024 could see increased beef prices based on steady demand and a decreased cattle supply. While I don’t foresee empty grocery store shelves, this could be an opportunity to seek out a local farmer or rancher and dip your toe into purchasing custom freezer beef. Only time will tell if my prediction runs true – I genuinely hope and pray that cattle country receives moisture soon, as the livelihoods of many people rely on unpredictable and uncontrollable weather patterns.