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Drought pushing cattle to the limits

Extreme hot and dry weather in August is stressing cattle and cattle producers alike, says Tom Troxel, professor/beef cattle specialist with the University of Arkansas Cooperative Extension Service.

“A few areas of the state have received adequate amounts of rainfall, but most of the cow-calf areas are dry and getting drier. Many producers have told me they have more hay in the barn this year than in the last two years. I just hope they don’t have to begin feeding that hay in August.”

Fortunately, cattle still appear to be in good body conditions, but pastures are quickly drying out.

Continued dry, hot weather will hurt the Arkansas cattle industry dramatically, Troxel predicted. “Many cattle producers have already started to sell cattle. Prices have held up well, so by selling now, cattle producers will receive a good price and reduce the grazing pressure on the pastures.”

Hot weather stress is particularly hazardous to closely confined cattle such as show cattle.

High relative humidity when the temperature is at or above 80 degrees adds to the likelihood of profit-stealing losses, said Troxel. Temperatures above 100 degrees are always dangerous, and if the humidity is above 25 percent, the situation is an emergency.

“When conditions are at the emergency level, all handling of cattle should be kept at a minimum.”

If producers have to work their cattle, they should always do so early in the morning, Troxel advised. Working cattle in the evening is not safe. Although temperature may decline in the evening, the body temperature of the cattle is still elevated because of high daytime temperatures.

Troxel said producers could be forced to begin feeding hay by late August if their pastures don’t get rain soon. “With the excellent growing condition experienced this spring and early summer, many producers have adequate hay in the barn.

“Fall is the time of year cattle producers wean and sell their calves. With the dry pasture conditions, it might be wise to wean calves earlier than normal. Many cattle producers wean and sell calves in October or November.”

Now may be a good time to sell non-pregnant or old cows. Cull prices are good, so if a producer has limited forage, it might be advisable to sell cull cows rather than feed them expensive hay.

Producers also have to be worried about the body condition of their cattle deteriorating, Troxel noted. If hot, dry weather continues into fall, cows will begin to lose body condition. Cows are generally thinner this time of year anyway, but with drier pasture conditions, cows may lose body condition faster than expected.

It’s imperative for cows to improve their body condition prior to calving in the spring, so it’s important to being feeding cows before they lose much body condition.

“When beef cattle are grazing pastures, there aren’t many things a beef cattle producer can do to reduce the effects of heat stress,” Troxel said. “Trees, buildings or sunshades can provide shade. Providing an adequate source of cool, clean drinking water is essential to help keep the beef cow’s internal body temperature within normal limits.

“It’ll be important to check the cow herd more routinely. While checking cattle, also monitor pasture conditions. It’s also important to provide a free choice mineral supplementation during dry periods.”

A good, free-choice, mineral-vitamin supplement should be provided year-round.

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