Help cattle handle summer heat

Summer is here, and just like any season, it has its own set of challenges. Many producers take time to prepare pastures, fences and facilities for the summer. They try to plan for summer by looking back at what management practices worked well last year and what should be changed.

Monitor cattle behavior daily for sickness and heat stress. On hot days, when heat stress is more likely, check on cattle several times a day. Cattle with black hides are more likely to experience heat stress sooner than light-hided cattle. Try to move cattle from pasture to pasture during the morning hours, as early as daylight allows. In extreme heat, it may be best to haul or work cattle for routine health checks even before the sun comes up and the temperature rises. If time and protocols allow, it may be beneficial to postpone hauling or working cattle until the weather is more suitable.

Heat stress is a function of both air temperature and relative humidity. Air movement is not accounted for in the cattle heat stress index but does influence how high temperatures affect cattle. Nighttime cooling, or the lack thereof, is an additional factor that determines how cattle react to heat stress.

Provide shade

When grazing cattle, have a plan to provide shade on hot days. Shade can be provided with trees, buildings and portable shade units. Pastures with trees provide cattle with shade and a source of feed on hot days.

As July and August approach, pay attention to pasture growth in paddocks. Growth can vary between paddocks because of grass types and soil fertility. When pasture growth is good, graze open paddocks on milder days. If cattle can be calmly moved to different paddocks, save shaded paddocks for hot days. Take a similar approach when grazing paddocks around or near buildings that provide shade.

When using portable shades, pay attention to the grass below and around the shade unit. If cattle spend the majority of the day around the shade unit, it may need to be moved daily. There are many different types and styles of portable shades available. Some shade units are built on a running gear that can be hooked to a tractor or UTV and moved. This type of shade can easily be moved daily to help prevent cattle from killing the grass or creating mud holes under the shade. There are framed units that require some setup and take-down time and sit directly on the ground. If you need a portable unit, choose one that best fits your pasture and herd management needs.

An ample supply of clean, cool water is also important to prevent heat stress. If you move cattle to different paddocks on hot days, plan to have an extra water trough available in those paddocks. Place water troughs in shaded areas to help keep the water cooler throughout the day. Be sure to clean water tanks often.

Livestock owners are constantly making plans and preparing for the next season. Once the facility is ready for winter, they start planning for the calving season. Once calves start hitting the ground, they start thinking about vaccination and breeding plans. The list goes on and on, and the cycle continues year after year. Changes are made to management plans and goals to make improvements each year. A few simple changes in heat stress management can make a big difference in keeping cattle cool on hot days. Additional beef cattle heat stress information can be found on here on the University of Wisconsin-Extension’s Wisconsin Beef Information Center website.

Written by: Becky Schley, UW Madison Division of Extension Agriculture Educator in Barron and Polk Counties, this article recently appeared in Wisconsin Agriculturist Magazine.

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