Keeping cows cool during the summer heat can be a challenge, but good management can help mitigate some of the stress.
Working cows in the early morning hours is one step, says Kacie McCarthy, Extension beef specialist with the University of Nebraska.
“Earlier in the day is going to work better, especially during breeding season,” she says. “That is going to reduce the chances for heat stress.”
Producers who utilize daily rotational grazing may want to start moving cows in the evening, rather than during the heat of the day, McCarthy says.
Access to clean water is also important.
“Make sure you check tanks,” she says. “You need to keep up with the demands of lactation. You might want to consider placing tanks in a cooler spot of the pasture if possible.”
McCarthy says if the cows are cared for in a confinement system, opportunities exist to provide them with shade — something that might be scarce out on a pasture.
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“Taller mounds might help them access a breeze,” she says. “You will want to do what you can to increase air flow.”
Artificial shade could also be established in the pasture, says Julie Walker, Extension beef specialist with South Dakota State University.
“That does run the risk of them gathering in the shade and not grazing, so you’ll have to watch that,” she says.
Grazing hilltops should also provide additional breeze, Walker says.
Keeping flies under control also helps keep cows cooler.
“If flies are bad, all the cows are bunched in the corner, and I can’t imagine how hot it is for the cow in the middle,” she says.
Cows may also stand in a pond to keep cool, but that compromises the cleanliness of the water, Walker says.
She adds that cows walk more slowly than humans, so it’s important to let them move at their own pace when they are being handled.
“Chasing them on a four-wheeler is not going to help with heat stress,” Walker says.
She also suggests producers keep an eye on the weather.
“Pick a day that’s cooler to work cattle,” Walker says. “If you have the option, work them when it’s 80 degrees rather than 90.”
There are smartphone apps that can also help.
“There are apps that show heat stress times in feedlots, but that information can also be used for cows out in the pasture,” Walker says.
According to research at Iowa State University, heat stress generally begins when the temperature rises above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. McCarthy says symptoms will include panting and increased heart rate.
“If you see this, make sure you get them cooled down as soon as you can,” she says.
McCarthy adds it’s important to keep a close eye on the herd when temperatures begin to climb.
“Go out and check on them whenever you can,” she says. “Pay attention to the weather forecast to make sure you reduce stress as much as possible.”