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Saving cattle from heat & humidity

Every cattle producer would agree – it’s a terrible sight to see dead cattle. After losing cattle to extreme heat and humid conditions in 2007, two South Dakota feedlots implemented changes in hopes of preventing further death loss.

William “BJ” Richter, Richter Ranch, operates a farming, cow-calf and 900-head feedlot operation near Britton, SD. In 2007 Richter’s feedlot operation lost about 78 head of fed cattle. He recalls conditions with very little wind and a high heat index. “Before I knew it, animals were dead on the fencelines, on top of mounds and in watering areas,” he said. “It was a terrible sight.”

Richter, who said he was relatively new in the world of cattle feeding at the time, wasn’t exactly sure what caused cattle to suddenly die, and called in a veterinarian. “I wasn’t sure if it was heat-related or acidosis. We started temping animals and found body temperatures of 115-120 degrees,” he said.



To prevent further death loss, he and the local fire department hauled an estimated 100,000 gallons of water to spray and hose down cattle. “We hauled water for three straight days. It’s impossible to know how many we saved by doing that,” Richter said.

Prior to 2007, Richter hadn’t encountered death loss like this. After the battle, he decided to read up about dew points and how cattle cool themselves, mainly through their feet and at night, and the importance of keeping pens wetted down. Then he turned constructive. “We made a water wagon that you could pull behind a tractor with fire hose nozzles at the end of it,” he explained. Until 2011, there was little use for the implement because of mild summers.



Another improvement Richter made was pouring more concrete in pens and installing sprinkler systems off of light poles in four of the pens. “Having sprinklers running in early morning alleviated things a lot,” he said. Richter also placed extra steel bunks in pens to serve as water troughs. His bunks could hold 600-gallons of water, enabling about 40 more head to access water, drench their heads and prevent crowding at existing water fountains.

“If you have spare bunks, fill ’em with water,” he recommended.

Despite these improvements, Richter said he lost two animals during July’s hot and humid weather. “But with a 123-degree heat index and 102-degree actual temperatures here, I was real happy with that.” He estimated that he hauled 50,000 gallons of water to about 900 head of cattle during the worst of the heat.

Another area where producers can get ahead of the game is by providing shade, Richter noted. “Wind still needs to move through there, and it has to withstand 70-mile and hour winds we had here the week before.”

Richter stressed, “If you get caught unprepared, it’s easy to get really behind. It’s too late when cattle are already hot, panting and grouped up because those cattle don’t want to move, and the more aggressive ones will crowd the water tanks and not move.”

Every cattle producer would agree – it’s a terrible sight to see dead cattle. After losing cattle to extreme heat and humid conditions in 2007, two South Dakota feedlots implemented changes in hopes of preventing further death loss.

William “BJ” Richter, Richter Ranch, operates a farming, cow-calf and 900-head feedlot operation near Britton, SD. In 2007 Richter’s feedlot operation lost about 78 head of fed cattle. He recalls conditions with very little wind and a high heat index. “Before I knew it, animals were dead on the fencelines, on top of mounds and in watering areas,” he said. “It was a terrible sight.”

Richter, who said he was relatively new in the world of cattle feeding at the time, wasn’t exactly sure what caused cattle to suddenly die, and called in a veterinarian. “I wasn’t sure if it was heat-related or acidosis. We started temping animals and found body temperatures of 115-120 degrees,” he said.

To prevent further death loss, he and the local fire department hauled an estimated 100,000 gallons of water to spray and hose down cattle. “We hauled water for three straight days. It’s impossible to know how many we saved by doing that,” Richter said.

Prior to 2007, Richter hadn’t encountered death loss like this. After the battle, he decided to read up about dew points and how cattle cool themselves, mainly through their feet and at night, and the importance of keeping pens wetted down. Then he turned constructive. “We made a water wagon that you could pull behind a tractor with fire hose nozzles at the end of it,” he explained. Until 2011, there was little use for the implement because of mild summers.

Another improvement Richter made was pouring more concrete in pens and installing sprinkler systems off of light poles in four of the pens. “Having sprinklers running in early morning alleviated things a lot,” he said. Richter also placed extra steel bunks in pens to serve as water troughs. His bunks could hold 600-gallons of water, enabling about 40 more head to access water, drench their heads and prevent crowding at existing water fountains.

“If you have spare bunks, fill ’em with water,” he recommended.

Despite these improvements, Richter said he lost two animals during July’s hot and humid weather. “But with a 123-degree heat index and 102-degree actual temperatures here, I was real happy with that.” He estimated that he hauled 50,000 gallons of water to about 900 head of cattle during the worst of the heat.

Another area where producers can get ahead of the game is by providing shade, Richter noted. “Wind still needs to move through there, and it has to withstand 70-mile and hour winds we had here the week before.”

Richter stressed, “If you get caught unprepared, it’s easy to get really behind. It’s too late when cattle are already hot, panting and grouped up because those cattle don’t want to move, and the more aggressive ones will crowd the water tanks and not move.”


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