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Managing Heat Stress in Cattle

Within the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen the heat rise and the humidity get even higher. This can be a fun time for families to get out and enjoy the weather, yet it might be a different story for cattle. Heat can be very difficult on cattle, especially those that are in feedlots throughout the hot summer months. This heat can cause stress within the animals and can cause low animal performance and may even cause death if the animals are not managed and watched over carefully. We are all too familiar with the incidents of farmers and producers losing their cattle during the high-heat, and high-humidity days.

When humans handle heat stress, they handle it quite differently compared to cattle. According to a University of Minnesota Extension article by Grant Crawford, “Feedlot cattle can generally handle air temperatures of up to 75-80 degrees without any negative effects on health or performance.” With that being said, it can depend on the animal to their specific heat tolerance, such as their body condition, hair coat length, coat color, and their feeding strategies. Crawford also mentions that minor heat stress may occur when temperatures reach beyond 80 degrees, and get more severe once the temperatures pass 90 degrees. This is especially accurate when the high air temperature is combined with a high humidity.

Sometimes, just watching the cattle isn’t always enough. There are a few steps producers should take to ensure that their cattle are not suffering from any heat stress.

  1. Monitor weather forecast, conditions and anticipate weather changes.  Weather can change in the blink of an eye, and by properly monitoring the weather, farmers are better able to prepare their cattle for the weather changes. The greatest probability of heat stress within cattle is typically between July and mid-August. If temperatures continue to rise within 2-4 days, this typically is a signal that the humidity is going to increase. Monitor the cattle’s panting, and if it continues to increase, this typically indicates the onset of heat stress and encourages increasing cow comfort to lower their stress levels.
  2. Do not work or process any cattle past early morning. An article on managing heat stress in feedlot cattle by Dr. Terry L. Mader mentions that if it is predicted to be a particularly hot day, reschedule working with your cattle to another day. Farmers should minimize holding time in crowded working facilities. Working and processing cattle can cause their body temperature to increase by two degrees or more. If you do need to work with cattle on that particular day, choose to work with them in the early morning to prevent any further heat stress once the heat starts to rise.
  3. Maintain an adequate water supply within the feedlot. When cattle are suffering from heat stress, their water intake can increase by as much as 50%. If specific cattle are overcrowding areas with existing water and others are not allowed to drink, place stock tanks that are filled with cool clean water in pens to allow all cattle access to water. We are all familiar that water is used to prevent dehydration, but sometimes just the feel of water against the face and nose in the water to take away their body heat.
  4. Minimize flies and other parasites that may bother the cattle. Fly problems are another issue that occur during the hot summer months. By limiting the amount of flies and other bothersome parasites within the feedlot, you are lowering the cattle’s chances of becoming overheated.
  5. Develop an emergency and strategic heat stress plan. Dr. Mader mentions that planned management alternatives, such as the strategic use of sprinklers, shade, or added water space must be a part of a heat stress management plan to help the cattle cope with adverse conditions.

Some of these steps to ensure lowering heat stress are well-known, but are important for farmers and producers to note when the weather temperatures are on the rise. There are a variety of other steps and procedures that can be followed throughout the high-heat, high-humidity days such as shade covering and improvements in airflow.

Although it can be hard to completely avoid heat stress, there are planning procedures and preparation that can be done to lower their chances of becoming stressed with high temperatures. By following these steps and keeping a close eye on cattle in feedlots and other pens, farmers will have a greater chance of getting their cattle through the hot days of summer, with little complications.

References

Crawford, Grant. “Managing Heat Stress in FeedLot Cattle.” University of Minnesota Extension. https://www.extension.umn.edu/agriculture/beef/components/pdfs/Factsheet_Heatstressfeedlotst.pdf. Regents of the University of Minnesota, 2014. Web. 12 July 2017.

Mader, Terry L., Dr. "Best Practices for Managing Heat Stress in Feedyard Cattle." Certified Angus Beef LLC (n.d.): n. pag. CAB PARTNERS. Certified Angus Beef LLC. Web. 12 July 2017.

Contacts

Karen Johnson
Extension Educator, Ag Production Systems
(320) 484-4303
ande9495@umn.edu
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