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7 Tips to Combat Heat Stress in Cattle

With hot temperatures comes the potential for heat stress in your cattle. While there aren’t necessarily any common diseases associated with hot weather, heat stress can weaken the immune system and make cattle more susceptible to illnesses and reproduction issues.

Signs of heat stress include an increase in the cattle’s respiration rate and saliva production. In more severe cases, elevated salivation will produce bubbly saliva on the edges of their mouth, and increased respiration can lead to open-mouth labored breathing.

Jason Banta, Extension beef cattle specialist with Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center, offers some advice to help keep cattle healthy during hot temperatures.

1. Selecting cattle. Selecting cattle breeds adapted to your environment is important when it comes to their well-being. If you live in a region where warm weather is frequent, you’ll want to have cattle that will be able to tolerate a hot climate.

“To successfully raise cattle in a hot environment, you’ll want to consider the breed, hide color, and hair coat of the animals,” says Banta.

Lighter colored animals will handle the heat better than those with a darker hide. Also consider the thickness of the particular breed’s hair coat. How fully they shed and when they shed will affect their ability to cope with the heat.

2. Adequate water. Providing cattle with adequate sources of drinking water during the heat of the summer is crucial to their welfare. What some producers don’t think about is shading the metal feed and water troughs from the sun, Banta explains.

“If those feed and water troughs are left out in the sun, they will heat up rapidly,” says Banta. “In order for the water source to have a cooling effect on the cattle, the drinking trough needs to be located in the shade.”

3. Pest control and shade. Cattle should also have access to shade during conditions of extreme heat.

“Ideally, that shady area is something that has good wind flow,” says Banta. “Putting cattle in a barn with shade won’t suffice if there is no breeze.”

Having a strategy to fight flies will also help producers maintain the health of their cattle and diffuse a buildup of excess heat in the animals.
 Stable flies cause cattle to congregate in small, tightly packed groups to fight flies, he says.

4. Working cattle. It’s best to work or handle cattle in the morning, before the sun gets too hot, or in the evening, when the sun is going down.

“When working cattle, make sure you don’t keep them in pens more than 30 minutes to one hour,” says Banta. “It’s also important that they have space amongst each other for evaporative cooling.”

5. Reproduction. Heat stress can also have an effect on reproduction in terms of conception and sperm production for cows and bulls.

“If cattle experience extreme heat stress, they probably wont cycle as well, and there is more risk for conception loss or embryonic loss in early pregnancy,” he says.

6. Calving. Banta warns that newborn calves have a much greater risk of heat stress than mature cows and bulls, so it’s a good idea to end spring calving in May or earlier, depending on your location.

7. Checking cattle. “Producers should keep in mind weather factors and be more observant going into a span of hot weather, particularly those humid, muggy days,” says Banta.

If hot, humid conditions persist for many days, be more diligent in checking cattle throughout the day to make sure they’re in good health and have access to shade and water.

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