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Mercury & cattle heat stress rising

Jeff Caldwell 08/20/2013 @ 1:39pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

Though this summer's not been exactly sweltering everywhere, forecasters say the heat is likely to stay cranked up in much of the nation's center for the next couple of weeks. Though that's desperately needed by the region's corn and soybean crops, it's also going to put the familiar summertime squeeze on livestock producers.

Potential adverse effects on animals from the heat will likely become a concern as temperatures hover around and beyond the 90-degree mark through early September, making it important to take steps to prevent cattle from taking on too much heat stress, says Purdue University Extension beef specialist Ron Lemenager.

"The good thing is that here in the eastern Corn Belt, we've actually had some pretty cool temperatures through the early part of the summer," Lemenager says in a university report. "We don't have the heat stress we had a year ago when we were experiencing the 2012 drought."

Don't let the generally cooler summer (up to this point) lull you into overlooking the common signs that cattle may be feeling stress from the heat, including:

  • Cattle seeking shade or avoiding areas where there's no shade.

  • Heavier-than-normal fly infestations. Lemenager says larger fly populations are more common when it's hot. Look for animals huddling together and be ready to treat with dust bags, insecticide ear tags, sprays, or pour-ons.

  • Panting. "They probably will have their tongues hanging out like a dog, and that panting is a way to get rid of some excess heat," Lemenager says.

  • Standing in ponds.

  • Cattle falling down or convulsing. These are both signs that heat stress is severe and may be near fatal.

The best thing to do for your herd  in times of high potential for heat stress, Lemenager says, is to provide an ample supply of fresh, cool water but avoid muddy areas that can promote potential scalding. Be extra aware of these conditions when humidity is high outside, too. High humidity accompanied by lower temperatures can be just as damaging as higher temperatures alone, Lemenager says.

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