Weather conditions in the Northern Plains can present more than a few challenges for livestock producers. From below zero or blizzard conditions during winter or even spring, to heat waves in the summer months, farmers and ranchers need to be prepared for rapidly changing conditions to provide the best care for their livestock and minimize their risks of losses.
Having better information usually leads to better decision making. Unfortunately, much of the information on a daily weather forecast is not specifically tailored for the unique factors important to livestock producers, or such information is not readily available to farmers and ranchers. In a survey of feedlot operators in South Dakota, Minnesota, and Nebraska, only about 26% used early warning alert tools as a trigger to proactively manage heat stress risks to cattle. The figure is probably similar for cold stress.
To help bridge those gaps and provide livestock producers with more tools to drive decision making, SDSU Extension and the South Dakota Mesonet have teamed up to provide the SD Mesonet Livestock Stress Tool available at the SD Mesonet website under the Tools menu. This tool uses data collected from 29 Mesonet sites across South Dakota to provide different measures of livestock environmental stress: Wind Chill Index (WCI)/Heat Index (HI), Temperature Humidity Index (THI), and Comprehensive Climate Index (CCI).
What Information Does the Livestock Stress Tool Provide?
The Comprehensive Climate Index is the newest measure of livestock stress and incorporates the most factors to describe the effects of changing weather conditions on livestock. It was developed by Dr. Terry Mader, retired University of Nebraska researcher who is widely recognized as one of the leading experts in the effects of environmental stress in livestock. The CCI uses temperature, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation to derive one value describing environmental stress on livestock under both cold and hot conditions. Dr. 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.
Wind chill index, heat index and temperature humidity index are all used by the Farm Service Agency’s Livestock Indemnity Program. Thresholds for South Dakota are provided on the Livestock Stress Tool.
How To Use the Livestock Stress Tool
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. Those values will also be color coded to correspond with risk categories. Specific information about the risk categories can be found by clicking the descriptive links at the top of the page, but in general orange, red, or purple colors indicate greater risk while gray or yellow colors indicate conditions with little or no environmental stress.
The Livestock Stress Tool also offers environmental stress forecasts for the next 48 to 72 hours for any station. To access the available forecasts, simply 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.
The South Dakota Mesonet is a statewide weather network of 29 stations supported by local sponsors and operated by South Dakota State University for the benefit of the general public, agriculture, natural resource management, emergency management and research. Live and archived data are available at the SD Mesonet website.