You work too hard to lose your livestock to the summer heat! With the ‘dog days’ in full swing,
Shade is one of the most effective ways to reduce the heat stress on your cattle. There are a couple reasons that shade works so well.
- Shade drops the temperature on the pen floor drastically. On an open lot with black dirt, there can be a40 degree difference in the air temperature. With the heat coming from underneath the cattle, it is extremely difficult for them to escape the high temps.
- Shade reduces direct sunlight and radiation on black-hided animals, thus reducing the heat load felt
There are a few ways to provide shade to protect your cattle.
- Natural and man-made windbreaks can provide great shade during the right time of day. However, they also reduce the amount of
windthat is able to reach the cattle, so plan carefully! Air movement is just as important as shade. Solarblack-out fabric is becoming a popular option as well. There are different designs that block anywhere from 30-80% of the sunlight. In a study completed in 2010, steers with 35.5ft of shade gained .3lb/d more than unshaded steers with better feed conversions. The average temp of the study was over 86 degrees. In 1995, after a record settingheat wave in Iowa, a study of 13 counties in west-central Iowa identified shade as the factor that decreased losses over the high temperature. This was a significant finding for the counties that had lost a total of 3,500 animals.
- Pens facing the south and southwest had increased loss rates versus pens facing other directions.
Interestingly, yards feeding heifers MGA had fewer death losses than lots not feeding MGA to heifers.
In addition to shade, sprinklers are another way that cattle have been able to deal effectively with heat stress. Be sure to turn on the sprinklers early in the day before that cattle become too hot and stressed.
Wetting the pen floor will also provide another way to cool the cattle, giving them a damp area to lay down.
If you are directly wetting the cattle, make sure they are wet to the skin and use large water droplets. This will help with cooling as the water evaporates. Just a light mist on the cattle does not provide the same effect as down to the skin.
Be EXTREMELY CAUTIOUS attempting to cool cattle later in the day by spraying them with water after they have been in the heat all day. This can almost immediately send them into shock and potentially death. Some local fire departments offer this service; however, PLEASE utilize this opportunity in the mornings.
The USDA Agriculture Research Service publishes 7-day heat stress forecast maps for livestock, which is updated daily on their website. This is a great resource to utilize when managing heat.
During high temperatures, you also need to be prepared for increased drinking volume by your cattle. Additional water consumption will also help cattle cool themselves down. Increasing the flow rate to your water tanks will ensure they are not empty while the cattle are attempting to drink.
Commonly, one linear inch of water per head is recommended. This means for 100 head, you need at least 100 inches (8 ft, 4in) of drinking space available. Setting up additional tanks during high temps may be another option to take into account.
Being prepared for the worst and hoping for the best will help you keep your cattle cool and healthy.
Image from North Dakota State University Extension.