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Veterinarians work to quash misinformation about SW Kansas cattle deaths

There's a lot of misinformation out there, and those who work with farm animals say want you to have the facts.
Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 5:23 PM CDT
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RENO COUNTY, Kan. (KWCH) - Veterinarians in southwest Kansas say there is a lot of misinformation circulating online in connection with thousands of sudden cattle deaths.

Video of dead cattle has gained national attention along with confirmation that at least 2,000 cattle in southwest Kansas feed lots died from heat stress. The livestock experts say though the situation is rare, it isn’t unheard of and there is no big mystery or conspiracy. What happened can scientifically be explained.

Among those working to educate with facts is Dr. Nels Lindberg, a veterinarian who works with feed lots across Kansas. Dr. Lindberg said the way to understand this situation is as a natural disaster.

A specific set of factors coming together makes it difficult to avoid this kind of devastation and you can think of it like you would a blizzard or a hurricane, just with heat instead of a storm. What happened to the thousands of cattle found dead is referred to as a heat stress event.

The heat radiates down and it’s having an impact.

“Sometimes the conditions get so extreme, it doesn’t matter how hard producers prepare the environment, the operation, the animals,” said Dr. Lindberg, a production animal consultation veterinarian specializing in feedlot consultation.

Dr. Lindberg wants people to understand that a heat stress event is what caused the cattle deaths in the widely circulated video from southwest Kansas.

“The perfect storm. We had a rain event, actually, several days of rain (which) created some high humidity in a typically very arid environment,” he said.

This was followed by a sharp spike in temperatures to 100-plus degrees with excessive humidity and no wind. It created conditions that overwhelmed. Dr. Lindberg said overnight temperatures didn’t dip low enough to help.

“Nighttime lows that didn’t get very low. And that’s when cattle and animals are able to dissipate that thermal load from the previous and when they can’t dissipate that thermal heat load, then it just continues to build,” he said.

He said cattle are resilient animals, but abruptly going from cool temperatures to extreme heat, there was no time for acclimation.

“These natural disasters are not very common. Over the 20-plus years, I really can only think of two other natural disaster situations that have affected animals,” Dr. Lindberg said.

When it comes to these kinds of events, he said the impact on people involved in these operations is devastating.

“It’s an emotional effect. We also have to make sure that we take care of our people when it comes to those things. It can affect us as veterinarians,” he said.

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