Managing, reducing heat stress in cattle

With the rise in heat and humidity comes the potential for heat stress in cattle.

Heat stress in cattle is caused by environmental factors, including temperature, relative humidity, solar radiation, air movement and precipitation. These factors can cause decreased performance in cattle, according to Dr. Bob Judd, host of Texas Vet News on the Texas Farm Bureau Radio Network.

“During the summer, heat stress can be a major concern,” Judd said. “Cattle cannot dissipate their heat loads very well as they do not sweat but rely on respiration to cool themselves.”

When the temperature and humidity index exceeds 80, cattle can experience heat stress, Judd noted. If nighttime temperatures also remain above 70 degrees, cattle may struggle to cool off from the daytime heat accumulated from solar radiation or wind speed.

Effects of heat stress can lead to many harmful damages and impacts, even death, for cattle. Feed consumption will decrease, reducing growth or weight gain, and cattle will become restless in the heat.

It’s important for ranchers to be aware and to recognize symptoms of heat stress in livestock.

The first sign of heat stress is increased breathing, followed by panting and slobbering. As heat stress becomes more severe, cattle will begin to tremble and lose coordination.

To help prevent heat stress, ranchers should provide additional water sources and avoid handling, transporting or processing cattle except in the early morning hours.

“Heat stress is magnified when we have high temperatures overnight after daytime temperatures have been in the triple digits, much like what we’ve been experiencing this summer,” Tracy Tomascik, Texas Farm Bureau associate director of Commodity and Regulatory Activities, said. “Providing plenty of cool water and access to shade for cattle during this intense heat is crucial in preventing heat stress.”

Tomascik noted heat stress can also have long term implications, including reduced fertility and pregnancy rates on the breeding herds.

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