Are your cows as cool as you think they are?

Are your cows as cool as you think they are?

The problems associated with heat stress can cost the U.S. dairy market an estimated $900 million annually.

Here are some simple on-farm evaluations you can do to assess your cows for heat stress:

  • Your comfort level: If you and your staff are warm and comfortable in the barn environment, then your cows could be heat stressed. Lactating cows are more comfortable in colder environments; your first indicator should always be the ambient temperature of your facility.
  • Increased respiratory rate: Counting the breathing rates of your animals is a simple yet effective way to gauge the heat stress level throughout your facility. If a cow’s core body is at 102ºF or below, the normal respiratory rate will be around 60 breaths per minute. A breathing rate of 70 or more indicates the cow is likely in a heat stress period.
  • Reduced feed intake: The more a cow eats, the more internal heat she produces. In situations of heat stress, cows reduce their feed intake which reduces the amount of heat that needs to dissipate. If cows lower their feed intake by 10 percent or more, then heat stress is affecting your herd.
  • Reduced milk production: If milk production drops by more than 5 pounds per cow during a warm weather period, heat stress may be an issue for your facility.
  • Increased standing time: An increased amount of time standing will lead to decreased milk production. Prolonged standing can also lead to an increase in lameness and other foot-related issues. It is noted cattle will be more likely to stand if their core body temperature is above 102ºF. Watching for an increase in standing time can be a simple way to notice if your animals are in heat stress.
  • Grouping behavior: When cows are warm, they bunch together away from sidewalls and end walls or near water. Cows will often seek shade or find the cooler areas of the barn. If you notice most of your cows are gathered in one portion of your barn, your cows may be telling you they are in heat stress.

When looking for these visual indicators, it’s important to remember: Once you see the signs of heat stress on your farm, it’s too late to prevent heat stress from having an effect on your herd. Being proactive in keeping your cows cool is the only way to effectively prevent heat stress and protect the health and productivity of your herd.

The article is from Progressive Dairyman, July 2017

Tags: Heat Stress, Management Tips