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Online tool helps proactively mitigate heat stress

Cattle at water tank

Kansas State University researchers say a recent study indicates that it’s possible to select cattle that would drink less water and still perform well during times of drought or heat stress.

News of thousands of cattle dying from heat stress in Kansas has been spreading the last few weeks. While South Dakota is generally a bit cooler than Kansas, cattle in the Rushmore state are not immune to the effects of heat.

Being prepared for rapidly changing conditions helps livestock producers provide the best care for their animals while minimizing their risks of losses.

However, in a survey of feedlot operators in South Dakota, Minnesota and Nebraska, South Dakota State University found that only about 26% used early warning alert tools as a trigger to proactively manage heat stress risks to cattle.

To help producers be more proactive in their cold and heat stress management, and as a result of the survey, SDSU Extension partnered with the South Dakota Mesonet weather data program to create the Livestock Stress Tool.

“The tool gives you some capability to look out up to 48 hours in advance to start making some plans,” said Warren Rusche, SDSU Extension feedlot specialist and assistant professor.

“It’s one of those one pieces that helps us get along without any real significant losses,” he added.

Heat stress tool

SDSU Extension partnered with the South Dakota Mesonet to create the Livestock Stress Tool that helps livestock producers proactively mitigate heat and cold stress in their animals.

A mesonet is a network of automated weather stations that provides high definition weather coverage. Each station covers just a few hundred square miles and updates every five minutes, as opposed to standard weather stations that cover thousands of square miles and are updated hourly.

In fact, mesonet is short for mesoscale network. Mesoscale weather is measured at a much smaller scale and is more dynamic than the standard synoptic scale which can measure up to 620 miles.

The close proximity and timely updates make the tool tailored for the unique factors important to livestock producers.

The Livestock Stress Tool uses data collected from more than 40 South Dakota Mesonet sites to provide real-time and forecasted measures of environmental risk to livestock.

However, within the next several years, there will be 150 stations throughout the state, said Nathan Edwards, South Dakota Mesonet operations manager.

“Almost every acre in South Dakota will have a station within 20 miles,” Edwards said.

It assesses wind chill index (WCI)/heat index (HI), temperature humidity index (THI) and comprehensive climate index (CCI).

CCI is the newest measure of livestock stress and incorporates the most factors to describe the effects of changing weather conditions on livestock. It uses temperature, humidity, wind speed and solar radiation to compute one value describing environmental stress on livestock, whether it be heat or cold.

CCI was developed by Dr. Terry Mader, a retired University of Nebraska researcher and expert on the effects environmental stress has on livestock.

Mader also developed risk categories for both heat and cold stress using these values. Cold stress conditions are divided further into two classes, one for adult or well-acclimated livestock and the other for newborns or animals not acclimated to cold conditions.

To use the tool, a user first selects one of five different map layer options: CCI (Newborn), CCI (Adult), WCI/HI, or THI. Once selected, the current values will appear on the map.

A “how-to” video is available on the site to help users learn how to access the information.

The Livestock Stress Tool also offers environmental stress forecasts for the next 48 to 72 hours for any station. To access the available forecasts, click on one of the Mesonet station names on the map or select from the dropdown menu below and then scroll down to view the charts showing recent history and forecast for that site.

Users can also find information about the Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP). The LIP thresholds are marked on the website, so producers can see when thresholds were met for their particular livestock type.

Find the Livestock Stress Tool at

Melisa Goss, Associate Editor for the Tri-State Neighbor, is a South Dakota farm girl whose love of travel has allowed her to see ag’s vital impact around the world, from America’s heartland to the rice paddies of Southeast Asia and many places in between. She makes her home in Sioux Falls with her husband, daughter and miniature schnauzer. You can reach her at

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