Summer heat safety for cattle caretakers

Hot summer temperatures arrived quite suddenly in much of the Northern Hemisphere this year, catching many off guard. Both humans and animals are just now getting used to the back-and-forth between enjoying the warmth of sunbathing, and desperately trying to keep cool.

What are the signs that cattle are feeling the heat in a bad way? Cattle will begin panting or breathing with their mouths open, trying to keep cool that way. They might also drool, group together, and refuse to sit down. In extreme situations, some animals might isolate themselves, lower their heads, and breath slowly. Some might tremble or fall over.

Keeping the cows cool

Our first tip is probably pretty obvious: Have cool, fresh water available. Remember that cattle will need to drink more frequently in hot weather, but if the water is over 80°F, they might refuse to drink as much as they need.

“This is a good time to make sure water flow for drinking is appropriate for increased summer intake by the cattle,” beef cattle veterinarian Grant Dewell told Wallaces Farmer. “Also, make sure shades are in place and sprinklers are in working order.”

If the weather is hot, it makes sense to work cattle as early as possible. Bovine Vet Online recommends before 8 a.m., and definitely by 10 a.m. If you can’t avoid afternoon heat, try to spend less than 30 minutes in the working facility.

Why earlier rather than later, when the air cools in the evening? Because in the morning, the cattle aren’t already warmed up from the heat of the day, having cooled down with the environment during the night.

The afternoon is a good time for feeding, because the ensuing evening will bring cooler temperatures to prevent body heat from rising too much while the cattle ferment the feed in their bodies.

Heat and reproduction

Heat stress does impact reproduction, so livestock producers should be aware of that if they do any artificial insemination this season. Research has shown that a post-breeding, high body temperature in cattle can lead to significantly higher embryo loss than cattle kept in cool environments — even with a temperature difference of just 1.6°F. Temperatures above 75–80°F can decrease conception rates, according to Dewell.

For calves that have just been born, dehydration is a higher risk for those with mild scours and those separated from their dams.

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