Summer Heat Brings Added Stress To Feedlot Cattle

As a relatively mild spring changes suddenly into a very hot summer in the Plains, feedlot cattle can be stressed, leading to poor weight gains and even death.

Weather forecasts have temperatures into the upper 90s Fahrenheit across most of Kansas, and with recent rains, it will feel like 105 to 115 degrees.




Veterinary experts say many of the breeds that originated in Europe are more susceptible to heat stress than those breeds that originated in more southern climates.  Darker colored breeds also are stressed to a greater level.

That means Angus and Hereford breeds have a greater struggle with the heat than their Brahma counterparts.

Also, as might be expected, the heat hits the fattest cattle the hardest since fat insulates the body’s core and hinders heat from escaping.  So cattle that are nearly ready for slaughter, those with almost all of the investment in feed, time, purchase cost and veterinary expense are at risk.

Young calves also are at risk since they are recovering from the stress of being moved into the feedlot.  Many of these calves also are suffering the stress of being weaned recently.




Cattle feeders know the stress that excessive heat places on cattle and will try to change schedules to meet the animals’ needs.

Foremost among the steps they will take is to make sure the waterers are working properly.  Cattle will drink much more when heat stressed.  A North Dakota State University publication says adding water trough space can keep dominant cattle from preventing subordinate cattle from drinking.

Some feedlots have experimented with sprinkler systems that spray the cattle for cooling.  However, experience has taught many that this only adds to the problem later.  Pens get muddy, cattle get mud in their hair, preventing evaporation of sweat, and pen humidity is raised, adding to the heat index.

Some lots also have experimented with large fans to keep air moving during times of heat stress.  However, the added maintenance and utility costs, limited effectiveness and unreliability of the fans, which are used only intermittently, make this an unfavorable option.  They have found it’s better to just hope the wind doesn’t stop.

Providing shade works well when cattle and natural winds don’t tear it down.

NDSU experts said straw bedding in the pens can reduce ground temperatures by as much as 15F, compared with the black dirt of most feedlots.  Many feedlots might try this, but lack of access to straw bedding sometimes is a problem.




Cash cattle markets Tuesday were quiet with bids at $192 per cwt on a dressed basis against offers of $200 to $205.  No bids were reported in live-basis markets, but offers were around $125.

Cattle last week were up about $6 per cwt at mostly $122 live within a range of $116 to $123.  Dressed prices were up mostly $10 at $195 with some early at $185.

The USDA’s choice cutout Tuesday was $0.25 per cwt higher at $209.08, while select was up $2.14 at $196.93.  The choice/select spread narrowed to $12.15 from $14.04 with 123 loads of fabricated product sold into the spot market.

The CME Feeder Cattle Index for the seven days ended Monday was $143.85 per cwt, up $0.36.  This compares with the Aug settlement Tuesday of $144.57, up $0.50.