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Roughly 2,000 Nebraska cattle die in heat

OMAHA, Neb. (AP)--More than 2,000 Nebraska cattle died in mid-June during an unexpected spike in temperatures and humidity levels, with one feedlot alone losing 250 cattle, officials estimated June 29.

The deaths are not likely to have a major impact on the $10 billion cattle industry in Nebraska, which federal officials estimate has roughly 6.4 million head of cattle and calves. But producers who lost large numbers of cattle could see a significant financial loss.

The Farm Service Agency's Tim Reimer said June 29 that mature cattle nearing slaughter are worth roughly $1,000 each. Such cattle are especially vulnerable to heat because it's more difficult for such large cattle to cool off, experts say.

Reimer said between 2,100 and 2,200 cattle deaths were reported in eight counties in east-central Nebraska. One feedlot reported 250 cattle deaths, though officials didn't release an estimated financial loss. The total number of deaths could grow as more of the state's 93 counties check in.

Many livestock producers were already struggling amid high feed costs before the heat wave moved in.

"There were some that took some pretty substantial hits financially,'' Reimer said.

Once all reports are in, the FSA will likely issue a disaster declaration that will allow cattle producers in affected counties to obtain low-interest loans. Mike Fitzgerald with the Nebraska Cattlemen, a trade group, said losing cattle to heat can be especially costly because such deaths usually aren't covered by insurance.

Temperatures reached the mid 90s in parts of eastern Nebraska in mid-June, and high humidity prompted forecasters to issue heat warnings. The heat was especially hard on cattle because it followed an unusually cool period this spring. The quick change in temperatures meant the cattle didn't have a chance to acclimate.

"Cattle, as well as other animals and humans, usually need two to four weeks to adapt to the changes in environmental conditions we observed last week,'' said Terry Mader, an animal science professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. "Sunny days with temperatures above the mid-80s can be stressful, particularly if there is no wind and humidity is above 50 percent.''

Most of the deaths were reported in east-central Nebraska in an area near Interstate 80 between Grand Island in the west and Ashland in the east.

Fitzgerald said heat deaths generally aren't widespread, but rather isolated to a specific region.

"When it hits, it tends to be concentrated,'' Fitzgerald said.

Heat waves usually strike somewhere in Nebraska every two or three years, but last week's heat was unusual because of how soon it struck and how quickly cattle died, said Mader, who researches ways to ease cattle stress and deal with extreme heat and cold.

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