Warm weather has returned and with it, the possibility for heat stress in animals.  At especially high risk are animals on feed, like feedlot cattle, that are near harvest weights.  While long lasting heat events can be deadly (one only has to look at the issues in Kansas several weeks ago), with appropriate action, warm weather can be handled without too much issue.

Livestock Systems Educator in Cumming County, Dr. Alfredo DiCostanzo shares the following strategies to prepare for mitigate extreme heat.


10-day weather or Mesonet forecasts are fairly accurate. Watch weather forecasts start acting on preparation steps and be prepared to remediate the problem.

How so?

  • Consider marketing finished or nearly finished cattle
  • If unable to market, move finished cattle to pens deemed to be less prone to heat stress (pens with shade, greater wind exposure, greater water access, or where bedding may be delivered easily)
  • Avoid receiving cattle during heat event
  • Resist temptation to increase feed deliveries or simply reduce feed deliveries
  • Increase forage in the diet:  Use storm diets or diets with more roughage
  • Avoid diets containing fat (adding fat to the diet leads to greater metabolic heat load)
  • Assign heat remediation tasks to one lead individual in team.  Empower this individual to delegate tasks to other individuals, as appropriate. 
  • Make plans to do any cattle processing before heat event
  • Plan to conduct pen riding and sick cattle pulling in the early morning hours
  • Remove any movable barriers to air flow
  • If possible, set up shades, but only if 12 ft high and at least 16 square feet of space per head can be shaded
  • Add and supply water stock tanks on fence lines away from existing water tanks
  • If possible, set up sprinklers and turn them on ahead of heat event
  • Plan to have additional water (accessing through local fire department or crop producers) and water wagons on hand

Be prepared to focus remediation efforts on high-priority pens.  High-priority pens have one or more of these characteristics:

  • Finished or near finished cattle
  • Black cattle that haven’t shed winter coats
  • High intake cattle
  • Cattle (pen mates) with previous history of digestive or respiratory illness
  • Pens with poor wind movement (north slopes, wind breaks, in valleys)
  • Pens with no shade
  • Pens with restricted water access or poor water flow
  • Pens with no sprinklers


Once the heat even occurs, using the following options to reduce the impact of heat (In addition to preparation steps outlined above) with a focus on high-priority pens:

  • Conduct pen riding and cattle pulling in the early morning hours
  • Retain sick or compromised cattle in bedded or shaded hospital pens
  • If cattle processing, loading or unloading must occur, defer to cooler hours of the day
  • Reduce morning feed delivery
  • Resist increasing feed deliveries or lower feed deliveries
  • Consider adding an extra 10 percentage units of roughage to finishing diet or continue feeding storm ration delivery (remove diets containing fat)
  • Dam a segment of feed bunk and deliver water within this segment
  • If practical, blow ground stalks or straw or roll out straw or stalk bales on pen surface to insulate heat reflection from pen surface (about 10 to 20 square feet per head)

Dr. DiCostanzo is a great resource if you have more questions about heat stress in feedlot cattle.  You can reach him at 402-372-6006 or email: adicostanzo3@unl.edu.  While high temperatures are always risky, proper preparation and remediation can help us get through hot weather unscathed.

-Ben Beckman is a beef systems Extension Educator serving the counties of Antelope, Cedar, Knox, Madison, and Pierce.  He is based out of the Cedar County Extension office in Hartington.  You can reach him by phone: (402) 254-6821 or email: ben.beckman@unl.edu.