As the climate warms, beef farmers could be left high and dry.

According to Megan Rolf, assistant professor of beef cattle management at Oklahoma State University, cows – like the rest of us – get thirsty when it’s hot.


Rolf: “When water temperatures increase, water consumption in cattle tends to need to increase.”

But during a drought, the ponds that cattle rely on begin to dry up. And when water levels are low, they become polluted with manure and sediment.

Rolf: “So it’s kind of a perfect storm where cattle are likely going to need more water when there’s less water available, and it’s probably of a lower quality.”

Rolf says the persistent drought in Oklahoma has taken a toll on ranchers who – when ponds dry up – must spend extra money to bring in water for their thirsty cows or sell a portion of the herd.

So Rolf is exploring genetic solutions. Different breeds and even individual cows drink different amounts of water. Rolf hopes to identify which genes impact a cow’s water consumption and how that relates to weight gain and other traits that affect meat quality.

The long-term goal is to help producers selectively breed cattle that can better survive periods of drought, so ranchers – and their herds – can better adapt to climate change.

Reporting credit: ChavoBart Digital Media.
Photo: Copyright protected.

More Resources
Scholars helping cattle industry with drought
U.S. Drought Monitor map for Oklahoma

Sara Peach is the editor-in-chief of Yale Climate Connections. She is an environmental journalist whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Scientific American, Environmental Health News, Grist,...