High Plainsman

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It is certainly sad to see that kind of suffering and death. My thoughts on how to mitigate the situation is neither cheap nor easy. I would look at the solutions as broken into long term achievement and shorter term. In the longer term I think producers need to utilize cattle genetics from countries that traditionally are hot like India, and east central Africa, perhaps Mexico and Brazil. They be giving up some growth and quality, but the new genetics would certainly be more valuable than dead animals. Ranchers may need to consider providing shade as heat shelter, similar to how they provide for cold shelter in the winter. Also provide water sources close enough to the grazing areas so the animals do not have to travel long distance to drink. And even more radical, would be to acquire land farther north to graze in the summer, and retain land in the southern plains for winter grazing. Maybe they could negotiate a deal with northern producers to provide winter grazing for both parties, and the northern producers could provide summer grazing for both. Transportation costs would be enormous of course.

It depends on the insurance source as to whether the losses are covered. Most indemnity payments from FSA, would require that a disaster designation be approved for that county or adjacent county. Then the payments would only cover a portion of the losses. And often the payments are delayed for some time after the losses occur. Livestock insured under the crop insurance division of USDA have different rules and are based on the level of coverage selected.
The summer of 2021 set records in Montana for heat as well as drought. Many days over 90, and temps up to 113F. I raise natural colored wool sheep and noticed several things.
  • The amount of wool a sheep was packing didn't matter much -- longer woolled sheep didn't act noticeably different from shorter woolled sheep.
  • Sheep without a good amount of fuzz on their ears had more trouble with biting flies, which increase in number and misery caused as temps increase and stay high.
  • Fat sheep and thin sheep had a harder time than those in moderate flesh, with body condition score around 3.5.
  • Black sheep had the hardest time, and would often shade up rather than join the white, gray, tan, and moorit sheep in grazing.
What I did to help:
  • Provided free access to shade for days over 90F, even when that meant abandoning the grazing rotation.
  • Plenty of cool, fresh drinking water available 24/7 within 1/4 mile at all times.
  • Made sure the sheep could graze in the cooler hours if they wanted. I night pen my sheep most of the year, but not in the hottest part of summer.
  • Culled all jet black sheep. Black fine wool is worth good money now, but not enough for me to watch the sheep sideline themselves in the shade while the rest of the flock grazes. Interesting though is that badger-marked sheep (with black legs, faces, underbellies and backsides but lighter colored polls, necks and bodies) did as well as light colored sheep in the intense sun.
  • Culled sheep with excessive fly loads or bug-chewed ears.
  • Provided good mineral free choice, and supplemented dry pasture as needed to keep the sheep ruminating well. Any sheep who fell off in condition joined the black and the buggy on the trailer to town. When the sheep can be efficient in their grazing and rumination, they can afford to rest in the shade during the heat of the day while still raising good lambs.
It's not perfect, but these things help boost the performance of my flock by selecting for the individuals best adapted to this hotter, drier world we're living in. High Plainsman, I'm with you on looking at heat-adapted genetics! My sheep are merino crosses carrying genetics from dry, hot climes of South Africa and Australia. And in addition to looking at breeds, my guess is that some cattle producers in the prairies might soon be shifting away from black-hided cattle.

And it's maybe not a bad thing to have wool sheep for those of us who get polar events as well as heat domes over the course of a year. My sheep have thick, warm sweaters for the winter, and cooler coiffures for summer. And that wool is a nice profit center in most years!

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