NDSU Extension - Mercer County


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Prepare for Heat Stress in Cattle

heat stress, cattle

Submitted by Craig Askim, Extension Agent, Agriculture and Natural Resources

Heat stress impacts cattle the most when they are exposed to hot and humid weather for a period of time.

With warm weather in the forecast, cattle producers need to have a plan to lessen heat stress in their animals.

Heat stress has the greatest impacts when cattle are exposed to a combination of elevated temperatures and humidity for a period of time, according to North Dakota State University Extension Service animal experts. Hot and humid conditions during the day can stress cattle, but cooler temperatures at night will provide relief for cattle and equip them to face warmer daytime temperatures.

“If forecast models are correct, daytime highs in the upper Great Plains may be in the 80s to 90s, but the nighttime temperatures in the mid-60s should allow for nighttime cooling,” Extension livestock stewardship specialist and veterinarian Gerald Stokka says. “However, as we progress into the hottest part of the summer, a quick review of steps producers can take to manage and monitor conditions for heat stress is in order.”

Being proactive is the best way to deal with heat stress in cattle, he adds. To anticipate when heat stress conditions will be developing, actively monitor temperature and humidity forecasts.

“Once cattle are in a severe state of heat stress, you may be too late to help them,” Extension beef cattle specialist Carl Dahlen cautions. “Having a solid management plan in place to address heat stress could pay big dividends in the form of maintained animal performance during periods of heat and in avoiding death losses in severe cases.”

Heat stress occurs when cattle are not able to dissipate heat. Mammals have involuntary methods of regulating their internal body temperature, including shivering and sweating to maintain “homeostasis,” or a constant, stable environment, Stokka says. Signs that animals are trying to maintain homeostasis include an increasing respiration rate, increased heart rate and increased panting. While animals are using extra energy, their feed intake declines.

Dahlen and Stokka recommend producers take the following steps to protect cattle from heat stress:

  • Identify animals that are most susceptible to heat stress. They include feedlot animals closest to the market endpoint, very young and very old animals, and those with dark hides.
  • Develop an action plan to deal with heat stress.
  • Know when to intervene. A combination of factors, including temperature and humidity, drives heat stress.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has a heat stress forecast tool at http://www.ars.usda.gov/npa/marc/heatstress.

“Also, remember that interventions causing animals distress or to cool extremely rapidly could have disastrous consequences,” Stokka says.

For more information about dealing with heat stress on beef cattle operations, see an NDSU Extension publication at http://tinyurl.com/beefheatstress.

Source:  Carl Dahlen – NDSU Livestock specialist and Gerald Stokka – NDSU Livestock Stewardship specialist

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