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Keeping them cool

July 15, 2010
By Phillip Bock

Keeping cattle cool over the hot summer months can be a daunting task for area farmers, but there are methods available that keep cattle cool while still boosting production.

Livestock can become heat stressed if they are not cooled properly over long periods of hot summer weather. According to Mike Boersma, an education with the University of Minnesota Extension project, the effects of heat stress can vary by animal, but usually results in decreased performance in production.

"If it gets too hot in both dairy cattle and beef cattle you see panting," Boersma said. "You'll see decreased performance in either beef gain or dairy production."

According to Boersma, the ideal temperature range for cattle is about 59 to 77 degrees Fahrenheit. When temperatures rise above 77 degrees cattle begin to eat less and their production begins to decline.

"Decreased intake leads to reduced weight gain," Boersma said. "In dairy cattle they produce less milk."

One easy way to counteract the high temperatures of summer is to provide adequate shade for grazing cattle. Shade structures should be at least 14 feet high with open sides to allow maximum airflow, Boersma said.

In Ghent, feedlot owner Steve Hennen said he has noticed a difference after installing a mono-slope barn to provide shade for his 550 feedlot cattle.

"The cows can go in there and stay out of the heat of the sun," he said. "It's a lot cooler in the summer in there than out in the hot sun."

The problem, Hennen said, is that it was hard to maintain a constant level of feeding for heat-stressed cattle. The high temperatures can cause the cattle to eat less, but by keeping them cool with the new barn they eat more consistently.

"It's hard to maintain how much you feed them when they are stressed by the weather," he said. "It's important to keep them eating the same amounts all the time."

In addition to the shade, Hennen's barn is open in the back and allows airflow from the summer breeze to cool the cows. However, if a barn is completely enclosed, fans can be installed to increase airflow into the building and cool down the livestock. According to Boersma, airflow of around 5 to 6 mph is ideal for cow cooling.

"That's what you are targeting when you use a fan," he said.

Short periods of high temperatures can be tolerated by cattle, as they often will cool down at night. However, several days in a row of hot weather will start to affect production.

"Cattle can withstand (high temperatures) as long as they have night cooling to let their body cool off," Boersma said. "If it gets over 90 you'll see farmers using misters."

Misters are often installed in barns to spray droplets of water on the animals to cool down their body temperatures. However, Boersma stresses that in order for animals to be cooled properly sprinklers must be used before the cattle become heat stressed to be effective.

"It's really hard to get ahead of the heat stress once it's a problem," he said. "Misters have to be used to get ahead of it."

There can be other problems with misters as well. The droplet size should be large enough to thoroughly wet the animals' backs.

"If they are used incorrectly it can make things worse," Boersma said. "If the droplets are too small it just increases humidity in the air."

Hennen said at the larger feedlot, which contains about 1,000 cattle, they use a sprinkler to cool the cattle down.

So far, he said, they have not had to use it much, because the hot days have been accompanied by high winds.

"We've had some hot days, but we have had wind on those days and that helps a lot," Hennen said.

A combination of shade, air movement, or sprinklers, along with fresh drinking water, are the best ways to combat heat stress in cattle as long as the methods are used correctly.

"The easiest treatment is prevention," Boersma said. "Stay ahead of it and know when its getting hot and when the nights aren't allowing for adequate cooling."



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