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Surviving Climate Change Starts With Heat-Proofing the Cow

As the planet warms up, a researcher in Florida is exploring the limits of agricultural adaptation.

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Cattle north of Lake Okeechobee, Fla.

Cattle north of Lake Okeechobee, Fla.

Photographer: Anastasia Samoylova for Bloomberg Businessweek 

In the hour after dawn, the cattle ranches north of Lake Okeechobee become an almost fantastical rendering of bucolic bliss. Perfect Florida sunshine rolls across miles of fire-hued grass, silhouetting idle cows in twos and threes, backlighting patches of slender, bushy-topped Sabal palms with bursts of orange and red. It’s as if a cowboy story had been illustrated by Dr. Seuss.

Then the heat starts. On a typical summer day, the temperature here breaks 80F by 9 a.m., 90F by early afternoon. And it’s only getting hotter. Of the 10 warmest months on record, all but one have come since 2016. The average temperature over a 24-hour period has exceeded 88F only nine times since 1953; eight of them were in the past three years.