A screenshot of the Cattle Comfort Index supplied by the Kansas Mesonet in January of this year.
A screenshot of the Cattle Comfort Index supplied by the Kansas Mesonet in January of this year.

 

By Rita Brhel


Weather forecasts have long been used by cattle producers and feeders, but indicators of human comfort hardly dictate what constitutes or protects against environmental stress on livestock.

That’s why Kansas State University is now offering an Animal Comfort Index, which synthesizes weather variables into a single, easy-to-understand index.

Consider this index as a precision tool for determining heat or cold stress among a cattle herd at a specific location depending on weather conditions.


What exactly 

is this index?

KSU’s Animal Comfort Index goes beyond the temperature-humidity-wind speed combination that dictates the traditional cold and heat stress models long utilized by livestock owners. 

Based on research developed by University of Nebraska-Lincoln ruminant nutritionist Dr. Terry Mader and his team, this online tool recognizes the intricacies of how each of these variables interacts, at times exacerbating or mitigating stressful weather conditions. 

This cattle comfort index is reported in degrees Fahrenheit but does not represent air temperatures. Rather, the index values indicate the approximate heat or cold than an animal is exposed to given the combination of weather conditions at the time. 

The Animal Comfort Index values are categorized as follows:

• Less than – 20 degrees, Cold Danger;

• – 20 to 15 degrees, Cold Caution;

• 15 to 85 degrees, Comfortable;

• 85 to 105 degrees, Heat Caution;

• More than 105 degrees, Heat Danger.

The specific index guides producers on how to adjust plans to work or move cattle, how to approach calving and breeding, and whether overall management changes should be considered. 

For example, at Cold Caution, producers and feeders are advised to increase dry animal feed rations to compensate for the energy lost to coping with cold stress. As another example, cattle may display markedly decreased conception rates and rate of gain at Heat Caution.

Both Cold Danger and Heat Danger index values represent extremely dangerous weather conditions for cattle where there is a risk for animal deaths to occur.

There are limitations of this index. It is difficult to determine the effect of continuous moisture, whether rain or snow, on an individual animal’s cold stress given that hair coat thickness can vary greatly from animal to animal. However, if cattle are exposed to Cold Caution weather conditions or even the cool end of Comfortable index values, yet experience hair soaked to the skin, severe cold stress can begin at warmer-than-typical temperatures.

It is also to be noted that cold stress levels begin about 25 degrees higher for newborn and young calves or unhealthy animals of any age. 


Where this index came from

The Animal Comfort Index is hosted by the KSU mesonet, a statewide network of weather-observation stations whose daily data is incorporated into online maps involved in real-time environmental monitoring. 

Most states host a mesonet. Originally designed for the agricultural community, the mesonet has since expanded its scope to benefit public safety, fire management, local weather reports, and various branches of research.

KSU is only the latest state mesonet to offer a cattle comfort index. The first state mesonet to offer the index to the public was Oklahoma.


How to access 

this index

To access it, go to www.mesonet.k-state.edu and click on the menu button, select “Agriculture” in the drop-down, and then click “Animal Comfort” from the next set of options.  

Immediately on the Animal Comfort Index’s homepage is a color-coded map for a visual reference. 

From here, there is the option to customize the map per weather variable and specific weather station. There also exists a table of data from all weather stations and the option to view a chart of the past week’s Animal Comfort Index trends. Finally, there is the ability to download data in map, table, or chart form.



SIDEBAR

Cattle Heat/Cold Stress Index by State

At this time very few states in the region have an index for producers to use. Kansas and Nebraska are the only ones. The information for them can be found below.


Kansas

Managed by Kansas State University

https://www.mesonet.k-state.edu

Click on the menu button, select “Agriculture” in the drop-down list, and select “Animal Comfort” from the next set of options



Nebraska

Managed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln

https://mesonet.unl.edu

Click on “Real-Time Maps” and select “Cattle Comfort” from the drop-down list to the right of the map