For most of us, summers are synonymous with chilled juices, iced popsicles, fresh fruits and light salads.
When the heat goes up, our reduced appetites crave food that’s easy on the eyes and light on the system.
And our cows are no different. Livestock health matters. Heat reduces their appetites too and when the intake of food is low, so is the production.
Just like how we alter the way we dress, eat and drink during the summers, I’m going to tell you how best to adapt your cows to blazing temperatures and shiny sunlight!
The main purpose of switching up your summer nutrition plans is to:
- Maintain the daily intake of nutrients through the changes in weather
- Make sure feed is easily digestible in the gut
- Maintain body temperatures optimally so that energy is conserved for the production of milk
Top tips for keeping your cows cool during summer
- Offer high-quality forage to your cows: High-quality forages generate lesser heat in the body during digestion. On the other hand, the fermentation of low-quality forage with more fibre creates more heat in the body, so that should be avoided.
- Your cows should be fed two hours post the peak temperature of the day. Heat is already generated during digestion so that added to the heat from the peak temperature of the day could cause heat stress in your cows.
- Just like how we tend to hydrate extra during the summers, your cattle need to as well. It’s one of the most simple summer solutions, but sadly, also the most overlooked. Water requirements actually double between 50 degrees Fahrenheit and 95 degrees Fahrenheit!
- Let’s talk about an obvious point – shade. Shady spots must always, always be available for your cows if they need it. And if you can chalk out shady spots that are on a higher spot or a ridge with a gentle breeze and no flies – it’s almost the same as giving your cows a room in a luxury summer resort!
- Don’t work your animals during the hottest parts of the day. Early mornings or late evenings are your best bet to keep your cows away from the harshest rays of the sun. Also, try to move them into smaller groups. If they’re in big groups and being jostled about their body temperatures could rise from 0.5 to 3.5 degrees Fahrenheit which is detrimental to their health.
- Direct your staff to milk cows as early as possible in the morning, or after 5 pm during extreme weather conditions.
- Keep a hawk’s eye on your cows for the smallest symptoms of heat stress. Young calves and pregnant cattle are at even more risk of heat stress so be doubly cautious.
Indigenous breeds of cows are generally more tolerant of the heat. It’s the crossbred and exotic breeds that are highly sensitive to heat.
Buffaloes especially, are prone to heat stress because of their black hide that absorbs more solar radiation. Also, a fun fact, (but not so fun for the buffaloes) is that buffaloes have only 1/6th the sweat glands that cattle have!
This, coupled with their black skin makes them extremely susceptible to rising temperatures.
The best way to help a buffalo get the heat off is to allow them to wallow in a cool pond!
Serious cases of heat stress can harm production and reproduction in dairy cows. Loss of milk yield, DMI and reproductive losses were calculated for the entire USA. Bet you’re curious about the results, aren’t you? Well, here goes.
Milk yield losses ranged from 68 litres per cow per year (Wyoming) to a whopping 2000 litres per cow per year (Louisiana)! Now isn’t that a shocker? Significant losses in DMI, milk yield and reproduction numbers were also reported in most states.
The normal temperature of a dairy cow is 101.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
When temperatures exceed 77 degrees Fahrenheit or if the temperature-humidity index is more than 72 degrees Fahrenheit, the cows will show signs of heat stress.
Symptoms of heat stress are:
- Body temperature higher than 102.6 degrees Fahrenheit
- Panting counts are higher than 80 breaths per minute
- Reduced activity
- Feed intake reduced by 10% - 15% or more
- Milk yield reduced by 10% - 20% or more
So now that we’re clear on how bad heat stress is, let’s delve a little more and explore the top tips we shared earlier
This is one of the most important and inexpensive ways to give your animals a breather. Shade, along with sprinklers, fans and coolers reported positive statistics.
Cows in Florida reported a 10% increase in milk yield simply by keeping cows in the shade! The same cows also managed to give birth to heavier calves.
- The most effective source of shade, of course, are trees. But if you’re unable to find shady spots with trees then a thatched roof of 9 feet of height can be provided to the cows. You could also use agri-nets with 20% perforation.
- Use a cloth of gunny bags to provide relief from hot winds
- For sheds, a heavy-duty fan is your best bet to keep your cows cool
- Misting or fogging of water also provides a lot of relief
- If you see one of your animals actively suffering from the stress of heat, just spray or sprinkle water directly on their body for 1-5 minutes at intervals of 10-30 minutes.
It’s not rocket science to know that cows need a good supply of cool and clean water.
Cows consume easily between 1 – 2 litres of water for each kilogram of feed intake and an additional 1.3 – 2.2 litres of water for every half litre of milk produced.
Since cows lose a lot of water by sweating and panting, their water requirement sharply rises during high temperatures.
Efforts have to be made to supply an abundance of good, clean water under the shade that is easily accessible and when you’re planning your layouts, consider the following:
- Your cows shouldn’t have to jostle and squabble for water at the trough
- Water supply should be adequate for increasing summer requirements
- Water should be cool, clean and the troughs should be cleaned regularly
- Water should be close to the feed
- Water should be in shady spots
Easy access to water troughs, especially at the dairy exits will help keep your cows hydrated as 30% - 40% of daily water intake can be consumed at the exit side of the dairy.
Just like how we go on diets to get those fab beach bods, our cows' diets need to be altered too. Diets should have added fat and high-quality fibre at adequate levels.
We also spoke about how high-quality forages generate lesser heat in the body during digestion. You can boost the quality of your forage by:
- Growing crops that are heat and drought-resistant
- Don’t defoliate plants that give shade to the soil. By doing this, you’re going to help maintain moisture in the soil
- Fertilization of soil
Certain studies have shown that a diet that’s rich in starch and poor in fibre has worked for lactating dairy cows.
Advances in animal nutrition also ensure that there’s always a supply of nutrients like fats or protected proteins to come to the rescue!
As global warming continues to be on the rise, temperatures are only going to get hotter and hotter. As farmers, we’ll need to do everything to keep our cows cool and healthy during the hot seasons by preparing well in advance for the onset of summer.
But, the good news is that it only takes some planning and prep work to welcome the summer season knowing that you’re going to come out of it, production levels intact.
Way to go on reading this and acting appropriately. If you're looking for more information, check out what we're developing on animal health practices!
Until we meet again, Happy Farming!
- The Dedicated Team of Pasture.io, 20 October 2020