Though Temperatures Set to Cool, Heat Stress Still a Concern for Cattle

By: Megan Johnson Email
By: Megan Johnson Email

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Veterinarian and professor at the Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center Dr. Dee Griffin says hot weather can be the hardest thing for a cow.

"The first thing I think everybody has got to understand is that cattle were really designed by God for cold weather, they've got literally a furnace inside of them," says Griffin.

Experts say heat stress in cattle is the culmination of four factors: temperature, humidity, obstruction of wind, and solar radiation.

Agricultural Engineer Roger Eigenberg says the research unit at the US Meat Animal Research Center is designing and testing ways to reduce the glare of the midday sun in a feedlot.

"If there's some way to provide shade for these animals that can cut that solar radiation component and thereby reduce the total heat load that these animals experience," says Eigenberg.

Griffin says when it's hot cattle can need twice as much water as they normally do. Because temperature and humidity effect the cattle heat index, he says being in a feedlot pen can sometimes be better than being out on grass.

"You go to our pastures here at the Meat Animal Research Center, you'll find most of the cattle that are out on pastures up in corners where they have little grass," says Griffin. "The issue is that the humidity above any growing grass is going to be much much higher than in this plain dirt."

Researchers say that cooler temperatures next week should be a relief for heat stressed cattle, but that cool down can actually make it harder for them to adapt if and when it gets it hot again.

"They tend to be a bit more vulnerable the next heat event because they will have filled with food and then the next heat event they will have a high amount of energy being dissipated because of the heat energy of the food that they've ingested," says Eigenberg.

Experts also say that even on the hottest day a breeze can do wonders, so keeping cattle in pens where the wind blows freely is a must.


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