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Heat Stress and Your Livestock

By Mike Donnelly
Extension Educator, Rice and Steele Counties

How are your livestock handling the summer heat? Although this summer's heat is taking a toll on our personal sanity and electrical bills, it is important to remember that livestock don't handle heat stress nearly as well as humans. Cattle are most comfortable when temperatures are below 80°F. When the thermometer creeps past 90°F cattle have difficulty coping, and proper precautions are necessary to avoid health effects and potential death loss.

Two of the most common ways to alleviate heat stress in cattle, include increasing air movement and providing plenty of available water. The following tips based on a University of Nebraska Extension publication can help you keep your livestock comfortable and beat the summer heat:
  • Increase available water. As temperatures rise above 80°F, livestock will consume more water because it is the quickest and most efficient way of reducing body temperature. To compensate for increased water intake and to prevent dehydration, adding extra watering tanks may be necessary. Additional water sources should be added to livestock pens prior to spikes in the temperature so they can become accustom to new drinking sites.

  • Improve air flow. Particularly inside barns, adequate airflow can almost be nonexistent. Increasing air flow is necessary to decrease the effect of heat on livestock. Adding fans and opening the sides of barns are two simple ways of increasing the air flow available to your animals. Increasing airflow through the roof of a building may also be an option.

  • Provide shade from direct sunlight. If no buildings or trees are available to provide shade from the sunlight, constructing a netted area to block the sun can be another option. In addition, when shade is provided over the feeding area, it is easier to maintain proper feed intake during hot summer days.

  • Install misters or sprinkler. Throughout Minnesota it is a common practice to add sprinklers or misters to your livestock barns and pens during the summer. However, proper placement and installation is necessary to avoid subsequent problems. For cattle, be sure these additional water sources are installed over a clean, preferably concrete area. This prevents cattle from lying down in the mud, which can sometimes lead to bacterial problems, especially in lactating cattle.

  • Control insects. Biting insects, such as flies can further stress out livestock and interrupt their cooling. If pastures or buildings draw insects to cattle during times of extreme heat, provide proper insecticides or considering relocating your livestock.
Having a plan in place before hot temperatures strike is the most effective way to avoid the effects of heat on livestock. Each farm is different; make sure your heat stress management plan fits your operation. For more information on helping your cattle beat the heat, contact your local Extension office or the Farm Information Line at 800-232-9077 or