Sweat ran down my forehead, hung on the tip of my nose in a nice little droplet for a second, and then dripped onto my left arm.
Canning cows in this heat is not easy. On a normal day, scanning is a job that would keep you warm anyway – a combination of the physical exertion and the heat of constant proximity to the cows means you never need a jacket.
In the extreme heat of the last few days, I found myself stopping every few cows for a big gulp of water.
“We’re not built for this kind of weather,” said the farmer, who sat in his jeep next to the crowd with the air conditioning on full blast. His task of documenting the number of cows and days of gestation was certainly easier than mine.
On the other hand, even on this scorching hot day, my work was much easier than that of the cows.
As soon as temperatures rise above 26°C, life for cows begins to get difficult.
As the temperature rises, especially in the last few days, cows suffer from heat stress. Their bodies have to work overtime to cool down.
Although cows sweat, they don’t sweat to the same extent as humans.
Cows stay cool mainly by breathing. So when a cow begins to overheat, her respiratory rate increases to the point where she appears to be panting, much like an animal with pneumonia.
Cows also radiate heat from their bodies, which I’m now all too familiar with as lately it’s felt like I’ve been scanning black and white radiators set to the maximum setting.
Cows spend more time standing in hot weather to increase the surface area of their body from which heat can be radiated to the outside.
Radiant heat and panting are very successful when temperatures are only slightly above what a cow is normally used to. At temperatures of up to 31 °C, however, these methods alone are not enough.
One of the things a cow will do when temperatures rise is reduce her feed intake — she can reduce dry matter intake by as much as 30 percent. With less food, the body produces less heat.
However, lower feed intake reduces milk yield.
At temperatures above 30 °C, farmers report a drop in milk yield of up to 40 percent.
With over 50c/l and many herds still averaging over 20l/cow/day, this could cost up to €4/cow/day in your pocket. creepy stuff
Other signs of heat stress are cows crowding in the paddock or near water troughs, seeking even the smallest bit of shade.
Cows will salivate more and drink a lot more. On hot days, a cow’s water intake increases dramatically, up to 110 liters per day. A herd of 100 cows therefore needs 11,000 liters of water per day under the current weather conditions. That’s an awful lot of water.
And a cow can drink this water at 14 liters per minute. If your water system cannot provide adequate flow, it will be very obvious. Cows crowd around a water trough, not giving it time to fill even inches from the ground.
In addition to reduced milk yield, heat stress has many consequences.
Embryo loss is a common side effect. We often hear of cows that should be in calving rest for a week or more after very hot weather.
Stress-induced diseases such as IBR are also common.
So what can we do to minimize the impact of high temperatures on our cows?
Shade is very important. Even if that means deviating from the rotation schedule and giving the cows access to another pen with more/less grass on it, so be it. As long as there are trees or a hedge to provide shade, it’s worth it for a few days.
If this is not possible, you should not confine the cows in their paddock during the day and instead allow them access to the stall. You don’t even have to have access to the cabins. The shade provided by the roof can make a big difference.
Water is probably the most important thing to consider. If a paddock does not have enough water troughs or adequate water flow, give the cows access to another paddock as well, or let them back into the stall to access the drinkers there.
Make sure the troughs are thoroughly cleaned. Cows don’t drink enough water when the trough is full of algae or dead plants are rotting on the bottom.
Consider milking earlier in the morning and later in the evening to take advantage of the lower temperatures at these times.
Avoid handling or transporting cows unnecessarily, as anything out of the ordinary that causes cows to exert themselves greatly increases the likelihood that they will suffer from heat stress.
I have focused on cows, but all animal groups are at risk in very hot weather.
Calves in particular need to be cared for, especially when it comes to providing shade.
Don’t forget your furry friends either. Make sure your dog has access to water and stays in the shade as much as possible.
Avoid taking them in the tractor or car until temperatures have cooled again.
Take care of yourself. This weather is the perfect excuse to slow down for a few days. Lots of sunscreen, lots of water and stay in the shade if possible.
When in doubt, a 99 with a flake is the solution to most of life’s problems.
Eamon O’Connell is a Veterinarian at Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co. Tipperary
https://www.independent.ie/business/farming/dairy/dairy-advice/if-you-cant-stand-the-heat-then-neither-can-your-cows-its-time-to-take-action-41847753.html If you can’t take the heat, neither can your cows – it’s time to act