Managing Heat Stress
Mark Werner, Livestock Production Specialist, Purina Animal Nutrition, LLC
firstname.lastname@example.org (507) 990-8235
As we move into the 2nd half of the year and our daylight begins to shorten a little more every day, we still have the joy of looking forward to the “dog days of summer”. These hot, humid, stagnant days are not only uncomfortable for us humans, but are downright miserable for our livestock.
We need to be sure a put our 4 legged responsibilities on the forefront of our concerns. We can always jump back in the air conditioned tractor cab or truck or go in the house to cool down, but our stock only has what they are provided to them by us, their care takers, to keep themselves cool and comfortable. When heat indexes north of the 85 degree mark are looming, we need to take a little extra time to make sure we put in the extra effort to apply the basic management practices to keep our stock cool.
First off, and most important factor is water consumption!! If we keep cattle drinking, they will eat and if they eat, they will drink. We all understand that mammals require water to stay hydrated, but we must consider the source of the water. Whether your stock are sourcing water from a tank, a pail, a fountain or a natural water source, we need to evaluate the cleanliness of that water. If it is a human managed water supply source, make a point to put in the extra effort and scrub out your tanks, pails, and waterers to remove and algae or other debris to keep fresh water consumption at an optimal levels. Green or orange water is ok if you are drinking Gatorade or adding in an electrolyte pack, it’s NOT ok if that’s the everyday color of the water source. When it comes to natural water sources pay extra attention to areas that have collected debris or have become overgrown to encourage water to flow ensuring that there are places along the natural source that provide clean, clear, non-stagnant water. Try to minimize livestock from standing in natural water sources, this increases the mixing of dirt and organic matter into the water source.
When it comes to watering space we need to be able to supply larger cattle 1000 lbs+ 20 gallons per head per day (this figure will change with different life stage of cattle) during high demand days or 1.5 to 3 inches of water space per head with adequate water flow. If you feel you are short on overall watering space during a heat event, consider adding an additional stock tank with a float on it to supply the extra needed watering capacity for that group.
Shade and air flow are major factors in keeping cool. Temperatures in the shade can be 10 degrees or more cooler than in direct sunlight, and that is not even considering coat color of our livestock. Darker coated cattle will absorb more sunrays and therefor will have a higher external body temperature than stock with lighter colored coats. If there is shade shelter available make sure your stock has access to it.
Air flow helps keep animals more comfortable because it aides in evaporating moisture. Heat from the skins surface is removed through the evaporation process. We can increase air flow to our livestock by removing all objects around our livestock facilities that restrict airflow. Look around, is there equipment, bales of bedding/feed, weeds, trees, windbreaks, or curtains that impede natural air flow? Remove as many obstacles as possible and let as much air move over your livestock areas as possible.
Another popular management tool is misting our stock. Misting our cattle adds cool water to the skin of your stock and readily removes surface heat helping them cool down and maintain a favorable body temperature. The one thing we need to make sure of when misting our stock is to make sure we don’t mat the hair of the cattle. We want the hair of the cattle to stay erect and open in order to increase surface are and let the body expel heat. If we mat the hair down by dousing the cattle with strong a stream or a large splash of water, and the cattle cannot shake the excess water out of their hair, we can actually hold heat in, working against our intended goal and increasing their internal body temperature excessively, doing more harm the good.
When we think of hot weather, many people do not think of bedding them to keep them cool. But as mentioned in the above paragraph, moisture on the skin is ok as long as the hair is not matted. Well as we all know when cattle lay in a moist pen pack, that manure more than likely will stick to them and matt their coat. Give your stock a clean dry place to lay to keep their hair dry and not matted. A dry pack underneath them will hold less heat than a moist manure pack helping them regulate their body temp more efficiently.
When feeding into a heat stress period, know that your livestock will ultimately back down somewhat on feed intakes. Watch the forecast and use your best judgement and management skills to back down your feed delivery amounts to those cattle going into and through a heat stress period to avoid excess feed in the bunk reducing spoilage. If doing twice a day feeding, consider delivery feed later at night or earlier in the morning when temperatures are cooler and cattle will be more willing to consume feed. A word of caution, cattle are creatures of habit so please don’t change your feeding times or delivery pattern too drastically, cattle like to eat relatively close to the same spot and same time every day. Cattle don’t want to eat heated, spoiled feed and nobody wants to be shoveling out bunks in 115 degree heat index temperatures.
In order to minimize the effects of heat stress in our cattle there are a couple products you can look at adding to your heat stress management arsenal. The Supermix Beef Abate product is a ¼ pound feed rate product that can be added into a feed ration or supplement mix. This product is designed to supply our cattle with Diamond V XPC yeast to support digestive health and maintain feed intakes and increase feed efficiency and feed conversion. Zinpro is another key component supplied by this supplement to support the immune system of stressed cattle by replenishing diminished trace mineral stores. Potassium is the electrolyte lost through sweating so fortified levels of potassium are delivered to replenish the spent stores. The next product would be the Land O’ Lakes Electrolyte Base and Complete. These electrolyte add packs are mixed with our animals’ drinking water to prevent dehydration and supply the body with electrolytes that are depleted during heat stress. This product is ideal to use in young calves and groups of cattle who have access to a tank in which the electrolyte and be mixed.
The more comfortable our stock are, the more they will eat and less effect they will experience from heat stress. Minimizing our loss of production due to heat stress and maximize our production when others are standing still or going backwards will keep you another step ahead of the game.