Hot summer takes steep toll on livestock, farms
By DAN DAVIS Associated Press August 1, 2012 10:02AM
CORTLAND, Ind. — Extreme heat killed about 300,000 laying hens over three days at Rose Acre Farms’ operations west of Seymour this summer.
And the drought — combined with the heat — is causing more problems for the Cortland-based egg producer.
“It’s affecting everything,” Chief Operating Officer Tony Wesner said. “It’s affecting soybeans and corn. We live and die by corn and soybeans.
“If you don’t have corn and beans, you don’t have feed for the chickens,” he added. “And unfortunately, egg markets don’t always rise and fall with grain prices. It follows it somewhat, but not at the same rate.”
That hurts the bottom line. As corn and bean prices increase, so does Rose Acre’s cost for feed, cutting into the company’s margin.
“Everybody’s concerned,” Wesner said of those involved in Hoosier agriculture.
Companywide, Rose Acre lost 500,000 layers at its operations in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Georgia and North Carolina. Cort Acres accounted for three-fifths of the loss.
“It was the first weekend that we had temperatures around 100,” Wesner said of the losses at Cort Acres.
After a while, the birds adjust like humans, Wesner said, reducing the mortality or death rate as a result of intense heat. But high temperatures and humidity could combine to cause new problems with death rates, he said.
“It’s hard when it’s 98, 99 degrees outside,” Wesner said.
Rose Acre attempts to increase air movement when conditions are hot and use misters in some locations. The company also changes the feed mix to help the hens survive.
The company is looking toward changes for next summer.
“We will evaluate what we need to do to make things better,” he said. “We’re already making plans.”
Some Rose Acre farms have cool-cell pads, which Wesner said help the chickens better handle the heat. They’re in the firm’s operations in the South, where higher temperatures are more common.
Richard Beckort of Purdue Extension Jackson County said extreme heat affects livestock much as it does humans.
“It does physically hurt them, but it also makes them go off their feed,” Beckort said. “Like humans, they don’t eat when they’re hot. So there’s a delay in weight gain (for cattle and swine) and delay in getting to market. That results in longer time on feed, more time on (loan) interest and more feed.”
Beckort said heat affects different types of livestock.
“Generally, we think cattle can handle it better, but when it’s this hot, all livestock are affected,” he added.
How does this summer’s compare to others?
“In 1995, we lost some birds, probably similar to this year,” Wesner said. “It wasn’t as hot, but it was more humid.”
A drought in 1988 didn’t result in mortality problems, but it posed challenges financially because of the high cost of feed, Wesner said.
Like Wesner, Beckort pointed to increased costs of feed as a concern for livestock producers.
“The drought’s impact is that commodity prices are up, which means if you’re having to buy those products to feed your animals and you don’t have enough you’ve grown yourself, your inputs are going to be higher and your profits will be lower,” Beckort said.
Beckort said he was unsure how recent reports that the U.S. Department of Agriculture will open some set-aside land for grazing will affect local farmers.
“If they have that set aside, they could harvest it, but I’m not sure much in the county will be affected by that,” Beckort said. “I’m also not sure how good of a quality those fields will be.
“But as an old-timer once told me, come winter, it’s going to be better than snowballs,” Beckort added. “It won’t be prime forage, but it could be of help.”