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Study: Cattle Getting Smaller Due to Heat

By Cyndi Lundeberg
By clundeberg@wbbjtv.com

MADISON COUNTY, Tenn.- Call it the summer slim down, but for cattle. The sun, according to researchers is doing bad things to our beef, something farmers say could be utterly devastating.

Brian Kemp has been working with cattle for more than 20 years. "We just have to wait and see. There's going to have to be an increase in the market value of the cattle to help offset the cost of the beef," he said.

Oklahoma State University did a study on bison and found heat affected the protein in the grass the animals eat. The low protein led to lower body weights. Scientists said cows will show the same problematic results.

"I won't argue with that they're probably correct," David Hilton of Hilton farms said of the possibly shrinking cattle.

Slimmer cows would hurt everything from leather production to fast food chains, according to farmers. To get cows plumper, farmers said an entirely new diet would have to be introduced and the cost would be passed on to consumers.

"Anytime you take a loss in income it hurts your pocketbook all the way around," Kemp said.

The study showed staggering results of what could happen stating that for every one degree the temperature rises, $1 billion in cattle revenue would be compromised. The National Weather Service showed in the past decade the average temperature in Jackson has steadily increased by about five degrees. According to the study, if temperatures continue rising at that rate it could be devastating for the more than 100 cattle farmers in Madison County alone.

"Their whole function is to try to take a cow someone didn't take care of, make it better and put weight on it which then makes dollars for them," Hilton said.

Come rain or shine, or high heat, Hilton said farmers will just have to learn to adapt. "There's not a whole lot you can do about the weather, the temperatures, and stuff like that. It fluctuates as the good Lord wants it to and whatever he gives us I guess we'll have to take," he said.