This month I traveled to my home state of Kansas to visit friends and relatives. The heat and humidity were intense enough that on a couple of days it was hot even after the sun went down. By my discomfort was mild compared to what some cattle in the southwestern portion of the state endured. Beef cattle have short lifespans and are born with a death sentence but at least they normally get to contribute to the economy and be part of the food chain. But not so for the unfortunate 2,000 cows and bulls who died as a result of a specific set of horrific conditions.
Speaking of bull, there was plenty of that being spread in the wake of this natural disaster. Without bothering to interview cattle producers, veterinarians, or meteorologists, conspiracy theorists hastily threw together memes which proclaimed the deaths to be part of an unspecified plot targeting the nation’s food supply. The creator of the one that popped up on my timeline ridiculed anyone who dared contradict these assumptions. This, coming from the throng which favors the mantra, “Question everything.” But they did no such questioning, succumbing instead to the personal incredulity fallacy and deducing there had to be a stealthy evil behind this, since cattle have previously survived extreme heat. Some claimed the method in question was poisoning, despite never specifying what type of poison, outlining how it was obtained or administered, or showing how the cattle lots were breached. No video of the supposed intrusions were offered.
Asking questions is fine if genuinely seeking an answer; it is not OK if the interrogative utterances are disingenuous, thinly-veiled accusations. And on a side note, it’s hard to miss the irony that those who mock COVID concerns since the virus has a 99 percent survival rate turn around and express alarm over .000002 percent of the nation’s cattle collapsing.
Someone creating such a meme, which came complete with the requisite face emoji, has no interest in what happened, but is instead after self-congratulation for arriving at their own truth. It makes them feel good and provides comfort to think they are exposing something, i.e., the slaughter of someone else’s cattle for an undefined benefit. This allows the persons creating the meme and those seeing it to plug the holes in with their preferred villain, be it Bill Gates, Bilderbergers, or Biden henchmen.
The truth, in this and in most cases, is much more mundane. Television station KWCH got to the truth by speaking with subject matter experts. This included Dr. Jess Shearer, a veterinarian with the Hillsboro Animal Clinic.
Shearer explained why the cattle succumbed to the heat and humidity, which are conditions they and their producers are usually able to combat. One factor was the rain which preceded the heat wave. This caused high humidity, a condition which was exacerbated by no breeze and temperatures soaring above 100 degrees. Beef industry expert Corbitt Wall told KWCH reporters that this set of circumstances caused feed lots to be much hotter than what cattle are accustomed to. In addition to these factors, most of the cattle were ready for market, and as such, weighed well over half a ton. Finally, up until the heatwave, 2022 had been cooler than usual, which meant the cattle were still shedding their winter coats.
These are reasons behind the cow-pocalypse. There was no need to fabricate a malevolent plot anymore than there would be if the cattle had perished during an unexpectedly early and brutal snowstorm.
“There’s no conspiracy,” Shearer said. “When all those things come together, that sometimes happens. Recently, we’ve seen very high temperatures throughout the day, and the temperatures at night aren’t getting very low. When the animals can’t cool off at night, the stress really catches up with them.”
KWCH also interviewed Dr. Nels Lindberg, a veterinarian who consults with Kansas feed lots. He told reporters, “Sometimes the conditions get so extreme, it doesn’t matter how hard producers prepare the environment, the operation, or the animals. This was the perfect storm. We had several days of rain, which created some high humidity in a typically very arid environment.”
I recall nighttime temperatures being over 70 that week, which is great for people, less so for beef cattle that need cooling off. “That’s when cattle are able to dissipate that thermal load and when they can’t, it just continues to build,” Lindberg said.
So going straight from unseasonably cool temperatures to unrelenting heat permitted no acclimation. Lindberg said he has seen this specific type of situation twice before, which torpedoes claims that this occurrence was unprecedented.
Another source that bothered to check facts was the aptly-named Fact Check. It spoke with Sam Capoun, spokesperson for the Kansas Livestock Association, who described how heat, humidity, and a lack of wind created the circumstances that caused these deaths. According to Capoun, cattle normally accumulate heat during the day, then lose it at night. This time, they were unable to shed that heat because the nights failed to cool.
Moreover, AccuWeather meteorologist Jake Sojda reported that drought conditions began appearing in southwest Kansas in September 2021, adding that localized pockets of exceptional drought appeared seven months later. He added, ”Since then, occasional thunderstorms have helped to keep the drought from continuing to worsen, but this activity has been localized and infrequent, so drought improvement has also been isolated as well.”
That drought, combined with triple-digit temperatures, created dangerous conditions for cattle. Even four inches underground, it was 91 degrees.
Again, asking questions is fine. In fact, that’s what the media outlets referenced in this post did. But if a person’s response to these answers is to declare that cattle producers, veterinarians, meteorologists, and skeptic bloggers are conspirators in a food supply disruption plot, that person has no genuine interest in getting to what happened and has literally missed the bullseye.