October 3, 2012

Lightning Can Be A Livestock Killer

Q:  How many livestock are killed each year by lightning strikes?

A:  No one knows for sure because record keeping tends to be very sketchy in many parts of the country, says Brent McRoberts of Texas A&M University. But there is no doubt that hundreds of cattle, horses and sheep are killed every year by lightning in the United States. “The Department of Agriculture says lightning causes about 80 percent of all accidental livestock deaths,” McRoberts explains. “What usually happens is that livestock often huddle together under a large tree during a thunderstorm, which we know is one of the worst places to be. There are numerous cases of ranchers finding two or more cows or horses dead under a tree after a thunderstorm.”

cattle graze in a field during a thunderstorm

Lightning often strikes cattle

Q:  How often does lightning hit livestock?

A: At least as often as it strikes people and perhaps more often, McRoberts adds. “Unless there is a barn nearby, livestock are out in the open during thunderstorms, so their chances of being hit are greater,” he says. “And the types of injuries are about the same. One study shows that while about 70 percent of humans struck by lightning still survive, the fatality rate of horses and cattle is much higher. This is because no one is around to treat the injured animal, plus the body mass of the animal is larger than a human, meaning more tissue damage can occur. Often, a rancher will see a dead animal on his property and not see any apparent cause. A necropsy (animal autopsy) often reveals that the animal died from a lightning strike.”

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Weather Whys is a service of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M University.

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