We survived the drought of 2011. The heat crippled our crops and stifled our pastures and the lack of rain dried the ground and depleted our ponds. We received some much-needed rain this spring but it seems the faucet has been turned off. We are in our third straight week of triple-digit temperatures and there is no rain forecasted for our farm.
As the summer progresses, we seem to be finding ourselves, again, analyzing shriveling crops and shrinking pasture ponds. We must now find alternatives and work daily to keep our animals safe. This week, I will detail our drought survival guide and what we do on our farm to keep our animals and our employees safe, hydrated and happy.
Monday: Cooling the Cattle
The heat in Central Kansas has been unending. We’ve endured more than 10 days of triple-digit temperatures and there is no relief in site. We’re all hot and downright tired of the heat.
Since Mother Nature doesn’t give us an “off” switch for the natural furnace, we must – and have – learned to endure.
As animal owners, it is our duty to make sure our cows and horses have the water and environment necessary to survive the heat. Much attention is paid to our care for the cattle during the cold winter months but the hazards are just as real in the summer.
Heat and humidity can be lethal for cattle and horses. Those animals do not sweat like humans and the cooling process often takes more work and is dependent on outside factors such as air movement, access to water and shade.
When provided with food, water and shade, cattle and horses will do everything possible to keep themselves cool. The animals’ basic instincts will kick in to modify their behaviors so that they drink plenty of water, utilize the shade when possible and eat in the morning and evening hours, moving the effort of grazing and eating to the coolest parts of the day.
But we have to help and make sure we are providing anything and everything the animals may need to stay cool and healthy.
We check water levels – be it in ponds or water tanks – daily and provide new, fresh sources of water when needed.
We also spend time just watching our animals. We can tell a lot about their health by monitoring their behavior.
We also must be diligent in checking the conditions of our pastures and the grass our animals have access to. When grass conditions decline, we provide minerals to restore the nutritional balance our cattle need. Like pregnant human mothers, proper nutrition – especially in the second trimester – is critical for mother cows and the development of a healthy calf. We have more than 400 pregnant cows and heifers on our farm right now so it is vital we are giving them everything they need to continue a healthy pregnancy.
A recent push for grass-fed beef has caused people to criticize cattle owners that provide their animals anything beyond the grass in the ground. For us, it’s a matter of ensuring a well-balanced diet. Pastures that have been damaged by heat and drought do not provide all of the nutrients cattle need for complete health. Cattle know when they are lacking a key nutrient, and allowing them the opportunity to take a few licks off the salt block means we are helping them monitor their diet.
Finally, we must watch for illness. The stress of the heat will affect health and sick cattle alike but is manageable with a healthy immune system. Cattle that are already battling an infection (i.e. pink eye) or a respiratory disorder will have a harder time dealing with the heat. That is one reason it is important we use antibiotics to treat illness in our animals. We want to do everything we can to help them improve their condition.
As the heat wears on, so will we. Our days will be spent watching for over animals and doing everything we can to keep them happy, healthy and hydrated. It’s all part of the responsibility that comes with owning animals and we are happy to do our part.