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Don't neglect cattle heat stress

Jeff Caldwell 06/27/2012 @ 3:47pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

When the blast furnace cranks up outside, it's tough on everybody, including your cattle herd. Though there are other issues specific to things like toxicity in grazing cattle, it's important for producers not to focus too sharply on those and remember to guard against the larger issues, warns one beef specialist.

Eighty degrees. That's the temperature at which cattle start feeling heat stress. Now, with temperatures anywhere from 20 to even 35 degrees warmer than that in parts of the Plains and Midwest, those animals are really feeling the pressure, says University of Nebraska beef specialist Terry Mader.

And, that's during the day. The opposite can be just as harmful at night; if the heat index fails to dip below about 75 degrees during nighttime hours, the heat stress felt during the day can continue right on through the night.

If temps like these are unavoidable on your ranch, water is your herd's greatest ally.

"It's important to have plenty of available water," Mader says. "When there is competition for water, it creates problems because the dominant animals will occupy waterer space and not allow other animals access."

And, drinking it's not the only way to use water to cool your cattle. If the heat stress has reached emergency proportions, spraying cattle can help them dissipate body heat quickly, though in the long term, it can hamper the animals' ability to deal with heat.

A final way to help keep heat stress at bay is bedding. Though it's more often used to insulate from the cold ground during the winter, the same tactic can function to trim heat stress during the dog days of summer.

"Straw can aid in breaking up or diffusing the solar heat load that often contributes to heating up dry, bare ground. The degree bedding is effective in doing this is unknown. However, if used, it is suggested bedding be placed in the pen early in the morning when the ground has cooled; otherwise, heat will be trapped in the pen surface," according to Mader. "Also, wetting the bedding would allow for additional cooling to occur when the animal uses it."

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