This week has been brutal for many livestock producers in the Upper Midwest with the high heat index. Several cattle deaths have been reported due to the heat stress. Here are 5 simple tips to make sure your cattle stay comfortable.
- Avoid handling, transporting, moving, or processing cattle. If this must occur during this time, this should be done early in the morning hours while using low stress handling techniques.
- Provide additional water. For cattle on pasture, provide additional water supply to cattle, especially if cattle only have access to one tank in the pastures.
- Provide shade. Shade is critical, especially for dark-haired cattle and/or fleshy cattle, therefore provide a pasture with access to trees or open buildings. In open feedlots or pastures without shade, please see Tip 4 to reduce heat stress.
- Sprinkle cattle and pen with water. As evening approaches cattle are trying to dissipate heat, so spraying water on mounds or pens where cattle can lie down will help. Also avoid spraying cattle with a mist, because in high humidity this may only contribute instead of alleviate the problem of heat stress. Be careful and first introduce the water to cattle in early morning hours, to avoid adding additional stress to the cattle when spraying them with water.
- Provide adequate ventilation. If cattle are being fed and housed in an enclosed barn or building, use fans to move air out and through the building; open sides of the barn to improve airflow; or provide access to an outside pen or pasture with shade. Using sprinklers in this situation will potentially intensify the problem and create more humidity without proper air movement to remove it from the building.
The first sign of heat stress is increasing breathing followed by open mouth breaking (panting), and slobbering. As the heat stress becomes severe, cattle can be observed to have a lack of coordination and trembling and when an animal goes down most likely at this stage the animal will not be able to get back up. When first signs of heat stress are observed, minimize the stress immediately by implementing the tips above. As the stress becomes more severe, few animals are able to recover therefore early intervention is key to survival, especially using these intervention in the evening when cattle are trying to dissipate heat from day.
For more details, including heat stress prediction maps, are available online from the US Meat Animal Research Center website. Also be aware this heat could have implications, which may not be seen during the time of the heat stress. If you are in breeding season with cow herd, this could result in greater embryonic loss in the first few weeks after conception. For bulls preparing for breeding season, the high temperatures could impact semen quality 2 to 4 weeks later, resulting in lower conception rates a month after the heat stress event. These are additional reasons to keep your cow herd cool during times of high-heat index weather.