5 tips to keep your cattle safe in the summer heat

As sizzling summer temperatures settle in, do these five things to ward off heat stress in your herd.

Amanda Radke

June 12, 2017

4 Min Read
5 tips to keep your cattle safe in the summer heat
Amanda Radke

In my neck of the woods, the wind, heat and lack of rain are creating the perfect storm for a drought. Folks further west of our ranch are already selling pairs as they run short of pasture and feed.

Summer is in full swing, and as the temperatures reach scorching heights, it’s time to start thinking about ways to keep the cowherd safe and comfortable.

Here are five tips for managing the herd in the summer heat:

1. Provide high-quality forage

"Animals are usually able to regulate body temperature to stay within a safe zone,” says Tom Welsh, Texas A&M University Department of Animal Science, in an interview with Heather Smith Thomas for Cattle Today. “Things that affect body temperature include metabolism (the body's process producing heat), heat of digestion (fermentation in the rumen produces heat), etc.

“Researchers have been looking at whether cattle should be fed a high quality, or a low quality forage when experiencing heat stress. From what I understand, high quality forages generate less heat during digestion than the fermentation of low quality forages with more fiber. So using high quality forages can be a way to put less heat load on the animal.”

He adds, ”If we want to keep cattle eating at optimum levels, it's recommended they be fed at least two hours after the peak ambient temperature, so when they generate heat from digestion it's not during the highest temperatures of the day. Cattle are not interested in eating or moving much when it's hot, and won't eat as well during mid-day.”

2. Offer shade when possible

Smith Thomas writes, “Shade is important during hot days, so the cattle can get out of direct sunlight if they need to. Sometimes they need the shade, and sometimes, they don't, but it should be available to them. Shade may or may not be the most comfortable place, depending on where it is. Shade along a brushy creek bottom may be swarming with biting flies, or have no wind movement due to the windbreak effect. Cattle often prefer to be out on a high spot or ridge with a breeze, away from the flies.”

Misters and fans in feedlots can help cool things down, as well, but on the range, these methods might be a little harder to implement.

3. Work cattle early in the morning or later in the day

"Avoid working animals in the middle of the day,” says Welsh. “Do as much of the work as possible in early morning or late evening when it's cooler. Try to avoid bunching them and give them rest periods if it's hot. There's no air movement in solid panel corral chutes, and those get pretty hot as well as being physically and psychologically stressful, which raises the animals' temperature.

“If you work cattle, the activity and jostling, especially if they are not experienced and don't know what is expected of them to move through the facility, will elevate their body temperature 0.5 to 3.5° F just from the stress and exertion. So anything you can do to minimize stress will help. Move them in smaller groups, give them less standing time when they are tightly confined in the long alley or in the chute, etc.”

4. Appropriate water intake is key

Rachel Endecott, Montana State University Extension beef cattle specialist, says, “Of the six classes of nutrients — carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins, minerals, and water — water is the most often overlooked, yet the most critical. Cattle performance can be affected by water intake.

“Water requirements are a bit of a moving target, as feeds contain water and the metabolism of certain nutrients in the body produces water. This means that not all the water needs must be supplied as drinking water. High moisture feeds such as silages or pasture have increased water content, while harvested forages such as hay and straw contain little water. Cattle water needs are influenced by temperature, physiological stage, and weight. Water intake increases dramatically at high temperatures; in fact, water requirements double between 50° and 95° F!”

5. Watch for heat stress in high risk cattle

Dean Adkins, KMA Broadcasting farm director, suggests, “Pay close attention to cattle this weekend as the rapid change in temperature may catch some at-risk cattle (cattle at end of feeding period, cattle with previous respiratory disease and cattle that have not shed out) dealing with excessive heat stress.”

The opinions of Amanda Radke are not necessarily those of beefmagazine.com or Penton Agriculture.

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