How to Beat the Heat
It doesn’t have to be hotter than hades for your animals to start feeling the effects of heat stress. Mammals can begin to react at temperatures as low as 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Heat stress occurs when the involuntary process of regulating body temperature is overwhelmed. This can happen to any animal, at any time for a number of reasons. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure so check thermometers in your barns, pens, and trailers frequently. Not all animals are affected at the same temperature so let’s discuss symptoms and what you should be watchful for.
Knowing and recognizing the symptoms is only half the battle. If ever in a situation where you recognize that an animal is experiencing moderate to severe heat stress, here’s what you can do to remedy a heat stress situation.
Consider a new feeding schedule
Fermentation, which occurs in all ruminant animals, creates a massive amount of heat as the body burns energy to successfully digest nutrients. This increase in internal body temperature, due to fermentation, does not reach its peak until several hours after a meal is ingested. Simply changing the time of feeding animals can significantly reduce the opportunity for heat stress to take hold. Feeding later in the afternoon will allow ruminants to digest in much cooler temperatures.
Cattle, goats and lambs aren’t capable of sweating as a means of cooling like humans. Instead, their nose and mouth act as the body’s air conditioning system. Setting up a few fans in the environment creates a breeze that, as it passes over the hide, promotes a process called ‘evaporative cooling.’ Remove non-essential and seasonal wind barriers from pens, barns and pastures.
Cool the ground and the animal
Cooling animals is an important part of reducing and preventing heat stress. Note that cooling an animal too quickly, however, can result in catastrophic results including death. To avoid that, cool the ground and the animal simultaneously. Sprinklers are a great way to accomplish this. Beware of water droplet size! A fine mist can actually create a humid environment which will only increase the risk of heat stress. The bigger the droplet, the better.
This one seems a bit elementary, but sometimes going back to the basics is the best way to approach a problem. This may not be practical for all situations, so use your best judgement when managing pens and large pastures.
A study performed in midwestern feedlots found that simply using straw as a barrier between cattle and the ground reduced the ground surface temperature by 15℉. Wetting bedding can result in a higher reduction of ground surface temperature but can be messy. Use this method at your discretion.
Heat stress is the result of two environmental factors, temperature and humidity. If nighttime temperatures do not drop far enough, animals are not able to recover before taking on the next bout of heat. Keep an eye on the extended forecast in your area. In the end, only you know what seems odd in your operation. If it feels hot to you, imagine being covered in fur!