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Fighting Heat Stress on In Lab, On Farm and Online

17 July 2008
University of South Dakota

US - Heat stress is causing major concern amongst cattle producers in Dakota at the moment. So much so that the South Dakota State University is taking major steps to combat the effects in the future and has developed a website to inform producers of steps they can take on the farm.

"The forecast information can help producers to take steps before they face a dangerous situation with their herds," South Dakota Cooperative Extension livestock educator Tyler Melroe said.

SDSU Extension State Climatologist Dennis Todey, along with Chirag Shukla, an SDSU climate data specialist, continues to work on the cattle stress project to help avoid heat losses like those suffered last summer.

"We have had the monitoring capability for the last couple years, using data from the automated weather network run by the state climate office," Todey said. "But with the addition of the forecast capability from the USDA, we now have a site specific to South Dakota with a more complete range of services for someone to track current conditions, where we have been in the last few days, and where the forecasts say we are going."

The USDA's guidelines for heat stress consider temperature, humidity, wind, and solar radiation to predict potential heat stress a week in advance. The SDSU Web site uses similar information and provides an index number - which relates to the combined influence of temperature and humidity - for locations around the state. It provides data from the previous three-day period as well.

Respiration rates of 90 or more are an indicator for danger levels in heat-stressed cattle. "Once identified, livestock producers must take steps to return cattle to a comfortable level," said Melroe. "Steps include limiting handling to early morning, making sure they have adequate space and water, adding waterers if necessary, cutting tall vegetation or removing dead-air spaces in pens, and adding shade and large-droplet sprinkler systems."

Reducing energy content of feed by 5 to 7 percent also can help, Melroe said. "According to the USDA Web site, during an extreme heat event, the surface of the feedlot can exceed 150 degrees," he said. "Adding water to the ground will cool the surface as the water evaporates, but producers should be careful not to create mud holes."

Producers can contact Extension livestock educators and specialists with questions in addition to using the SDSU Web site and its information.

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