Identifying and Managing Heat Stress in Cattle

Following is a timely article prepared by Travis Meteer, Extension Educator with the University of Illinois.

In addition to the following timely information from Travis, the USDA ARS at Clay Center Nebraska has a website the provides heat stress forecast that can help producers be prepared and make management decisions to help minimize heat stress impacts.  It is located here: USDA ARS Heat Forecast site.

As the temperatures and humidity elevate, it is important to understand and manage to prevent heat stress in your cattle herd. Heat stress can lower performance and in severe cases cause death. Here are some recommendations to keep heat stress at a minimum.

Management tips to reduce heat stress:

  • Ensure that water is clean and plentiful. Cattle will drink more water in times of extreme heat. Here is a chart to determine how much cattle will drink
  • Avoid handling, processing, or moving cattle. If any of these tasks need to be performed they should be done early in the morning and completed before 10am.
  • Provide shade to cattle. Shade is best if it is from trees or high clearance shades that allow a breeze to circulate underneath. Buildings or sheds are better than nothing, but they will be less allowing to airflow and air circulation. If cattle are in confinement or barns, ensure adequate ventilation and use fans to move air through and out of the building.
  • Prevent pests and other stress factors. Fly control can be beneficial to keeping animals cool. More energy and movement to control flies can have a negative relationship with cows keeping cool
  • Feed at coolest times of the day. This will help keep intake levels up and keep cattle from losing performance.

Heat stress symptoms:

  • Panting, Open mouths
  • Drooling
  • Elevated breathing rate
  • Restlessness, Extended periods of standing

Click here for signs of heat stress

Heat stress can not only cost you money in lost performance and increased death loss, but it can harm animal comfort and image of your farm. Pay attention to simple things and ensure that your cattle are given every opportunity to minimize heat stress.

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