Proactive measures implemented before an extreme heat event can reduce immediate and long-term impacts of heat stress in ruminants.
“Mitigating impacts of heat stress begins before an extreme heat event,” explains Jessica Fox, veterinarian and director of veterinary services and biosecurity for Ralco. “The impacts producers’ see are only a small portion of what is going on inside a ruminant during an extreme heat event.”
Fox explains that by the time ruminants show external signs of heat stress: going off feed, labored breathing, panting, increased water intake, decreased activity or sweating, heat stress has already begun to wreak havoc on vital, internal systems. “Heat stress triggers a cascade of events that impact a bovine’s production ability, make it susceptible to disease and, in extreme circumstances, death,” Fox says.
Fox and Dr. Jeff Hill, ruminant nutritionist and Ralco brand manager, offer tips to lessen heat stress on livestock.
Access to water
During an extreme heat event, cattle need nearly double the amount of water they would typically consume. “Ensuring abundant access to cool, fresh water is the single, most important step beef and dairy producers can take,” Fox said.
Because heat events can tax automatic water capacity, Hill suggests putting out extra free-standing tanks prior to a heat event. “Not only does this ensure all have access to water, but it keeps the herd from bunching up around water tanks–exaggerating the issue."
Droplets. Not mist
Prior to a heat event, producers should also test feedyard sprinkler systems to ensure they are functioning properly – emitting large enough droplets. If the droplets are too small, they can create added humidity, exasperating heat issues.
Providing shade is proven to help mitigate heat stress. Structures should be open and 8 to 14-feet tall to allow for proper ventilation and should provide between 20 and 40 square-feet-per-animal depending on animal size. If shade cannot be supplied, simply providing bedding can be of benefit. The ground can trap heat and is capable of becoming up to 20 degrees hotter than the ambient air.
Heat also impacts feed quality. “Feed rations heat up in the sun and begin to breakdown due to mold, yeast and bacteria growth. Not only are cattle appetites impacted during a heat event, but the feed itself is less appetizing,” Hill explains.