Summer is officially underway, marking the beginning of a potentially stressful time for cattle. We all know that temperatures above 80 degrees can be a struggle for animals and humans alike. But the warmer summer temps are particularly hard for cattle, who don’t sweat as effectively and rely more on respiration to stay cool.
Essentially, cows have to work harder to overcome the heat, and that results in decreased efficiency, decreased feed intake and higher stress levels. That’s why it’s essential for cattle producers to implement a plan to keep their cattle cool, healthy and productive throughout the summer.
Here are some tips for promoting cattle comfort in the hottest conditions.
DO provide proper shade and ventilation
Cattle need somewhere to go that’s out of the sun, especially dark-haired cattle. Allow access to open buildings and pasture with trees. And if your cattle already live in an enclosed barn or building, make sure all fans are working effectively to maximize air flow. Your cattle will appreciate the nice breeze.
DON’T ignore the bedding
Bedding plays a critical role in keeping your cows comfortable throughout the year, but especially in the summer. Keep the bedding dry to minimize the risk of flies gathering and laying eggs. This will also keep your cows’ coats clean, eliminating another opportunity for flies to exploit.
DO keep your cows properly hydrated
Cattle naturally drink more water during the summer months, so make sure you’re constantly providing clean and contaminant-free water. Constantly check the quality of the water, as cattle will avoid water with excrement in it. And keep the water cool by ensuring all water lines are covered by grass.
DON’T feed cattle when it’s too hot
This is easier said than done during the summer, when it can be hot throughout the day. But cows simply won’t eat as much when they’re hot. Adjust feeding time so it takes place during the cooler parts of the day, such as earlier in the morning or after sunset. This will help maximize feed consumption even on the hottest summer days.
DO know the signs of heat stress in cattle
Most importantly, cattle producers must be able to identify when cattle are undergoing heat stress. Below are the six stages of heat stress, according to the USDA Agricultural Research Service.
Stage 1: elevated breathing rate, restless, spend increased time standing
Stage 2: elevated breathing rate, slight drooling, most animals are standing and restless
Stage 3: elevated breathing rate, excessive drooling or foaming, most animals are standing and restless, animals may group together
Stage 4: elevated breathing rate, open mouth breathing, possible drooling, most animals standing, animals may group together
Stage 5: elevated breathing with pushing from the flanks, open mouth breathing with tongue protruding, possible drooling, most animals standing and restless
Stage 6: open mouth breathing with tongue protruding, breathing is labored, and respiration rate may decrease, cattle push from flanks while breathing, head down, not necessarily drooling, individual animals may be isolated from the herd.