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Beat the heat for your herd

Jeff Caldwell 07/18/2011 @ 10:30am Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

This time of year, it's tough to find much redeeming about the hot, humid weather in the nation's midsection. That's especially true for your cattle.

When the heat index tops 100 degrees, like it has been in much of the Plains and Midwest the last few days, it can really slam your cattle herd health. So, what can you do? Iowa State University Extension beef veterinarian Grant Dewell has a 5-step checklist to run through with your herd whenever the mercury spikes.

  • Plan ahead
    A lot of heat stress issues can be avoided by simply changing the schedule a bit to take advantage of times before or after the real heat of the day kicks in. "After cattle get hot, it’s too late to prevent problems," Dewell says. "Don’t work cattle when it is hot. Finish working cattle before 9 to 10 a.m. in summer, and remember that during a heat wave it’s best to not work cattle at all."

  • Increase water access
    Drinking water is about the only way cattle can cool down during the dog days of summer like these. But, simply providing a water source alone isn't enough. "Make sure the water flow is sufficient to keep tanks full, and ensure there’s enough space at water tanks (3 inches linear space per head)," Dewell says. "Introduce new water tanks before a heat event occurs so cattle know where they are."

  • Change feeding times
    The rumen generates a lot of heat during digestion. When it's this hot outside, it can be difficult for cattle to expel that heat during digestion. So, Dewell recommends feeding around 70% of the animals' total ration later on in the day. "Heat from fermentation in the rumen is primary source of heat for cattle. When cattle are fed in the morning, peak rumen temperature production occurs during the heat of day when they can’t get rid of it," he says. "By feeding 70% of the ration in late afternoon, rumen heat production occurs when it is cooler."

  • Provide other cooling help
    Ventilation, shade and sprinklers are all good ways to help provide your herd some relief from the heat. "Environmental temperatures compound the heat load for cattle during a heat wave. Remove objects that are obstructing natural air movement," Dewell says. "Indoor cattle will benefit from shade provided by the building as long as ventilation is good. Outdoor cattle will benefit from sprinklers to cool them off. Make sure cattle are used to sprinklers before employing them during a heat wave."

  • Keep an eye out
    Finally, use all the resources you can to keep an eye on the weather outlook, specifically as it pertains to potential heat stress. Dewell recommends, in addition to just watching the general forecast, getting ahold of a 7-day heat stress forecast for your area from the USDA Agricultural Research Service.



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