Maintaining Productivity And Health in Warm Weather

Like you, your livestock are warm-blooded and continually generate internal heat. And like you, livestock need to be kept cool during the intense heat of summer. Overheated animals will eat less, therefore produce less, and gain less weight. Heat stress can also lead to reproductive issues, and in some cases, can actually suppress immunity leading to respiratory problems like pneumonia. To avoid summertime dips in productivity and potential health problems, be sure to make available plenty of cold water, cool air, and shade. Beyond that, it may be worth your while to consider the role barn design can play in keeping your livestock cool, and the value of investing in a sprinkler and/or cooling system for your facility.

Signs of Heat Stress

Animals gain heat in two ways: through conduction and radiation. Conduction is heat gained from an object by touching it. For example, if your cows are lying down on a hot day, they’re absorbing heat from the ground. Radiation is heat gained from outside heat sources; most often this is the sun. Just like your mother reminded you not to wear a black tee-shirt on a hot day, animals with black or dark hair are going to warm much faster than those with white or pale hair. Hair color is not the only factor, though. Some animals have light hair but dark skin beneath.

Heat stress can happen to your livestock if they’re not kept cool. For animals with sweat glands, like horses, keep an eye out for profuse sweating. For those that don’t sweat, like cattle and swine, look for open-mouthed panting. If you observe signs of stumbling, animals bumping into objects, or if they’re shaking, drop everything and get them into cold water immediately because heat stroke is likely imminent.

Livestock Cooling Solutions

Fresh Water

Fresh water is the most important thing you can give your livestock during oppressively hot weather. Note we say “fresh water” because not any water will do the trick. Warm, stagnant water from holes, ponds, or old tanks won’t refresh the animal and can harbor bacteria. It’s also smart to prevent animals from standing in ponds, which they will try to do if they’re able. Animals will often defecate in the pond and can end up with mastitis and/or various diarrheal diseases.

Using a watering system is a smart way to make sure your animals have a reliable source of fresh drinking water. You may consider adding electrolytes to it if your livestock seem at all sluggish. Some electrolytes are now available in flavors that can entice your stock to drink.

Cooling Horses

Cooling a horse can be more complicated than simply hosing it down. In fact, hosing a sweating horse will only super-heat the water that contacts the sweat, while the additional water will simply run off the animal. Scraping sweat from the horse with a sweat scraper first is necessary. Follow this immediately with cool water from a sponge held in your other hand. Spray, scrape, sponge, repeat.

If you own horses it may be worth your while to contact an expert for a quick demonstration if you are not familiar with this method.

Shade

A basic step is to block solar radiation by providing plenty of shade. Trees are an obvious shade provider and you’ll often see cattle gathered along a tree line in hot weather. Run-in shelters can provide shade for a small number of animals in the pasture. You can also erect outdoor shade structures using woven shade material. Your barn, though, is the main source of shade. However, when a barn is full of hot bodies, it’s going to heat up. It will be important that you have an efficient cooling system and effective ventilation in place.

Spraying And Cooling Systems

Research at the University of Florida has shown that cows cooled by fans and sprinklers have a 10% increase in milk production over those with no cooling. That’s something to take note of. Evaporative cooling systems can be excellent ways to cool your livestock. They are typically available in two forms.

Fogging systems evaporate water between the fan and the cow, cooling the air before it is blown across the animal. Evaporative systems use recirculated water and are efficient. You need only keep an eye on your cooling pad, nozzles, and pump.

Sprinkler systems, on the other hand, first wet the animal and then blow air across the animal’s body. They do not use recirculated water, so they can be a drain on your resources. They also wet floors that can be particularly slippery for hooved animals. If you do use a sprinkler system, you’ll want to investigate methods of making your flooring skid-resistant.

Fans

Cooling systems employ fans to move the air. Of course, on their own, fans will only move warm air around. In the absence of spray or cooling systems, larger utility fans can be used to keep livestock cool. For smaller livestock, like chickens, consumer-grade fans will be adequate. Make sure to point the fans at the livestock directly but at a distance so tails and feathers don’t become suddenly tangled in the blades.

Livestock Barn Design

A persistent heat problem may lead you to consider a structural fix for your barn. You’ll want to evaluate whether or not making significant changes to your barns is worth the interruption that will result in your operation. Introducing one or more of the above cooling options may solve your problem. If alterations make sense, research the value of adding a ridge vent, if you lack one; and consider the floor plan of your barn.

The more room cattle have to move, the less heat they will pass animal to animal by conduction. A standard feed alley width should be 12 to 14 feet and the alley width behind stalls should be 10 to 12 feet. Wider alleys allow more air movement to keep your cattle cool.

Many holding areas have high, enclosed sides. During warm weather, these should be removed, if possible, to facilitate maximum air movement. Curtains can be used in cold weather. The ridge vent above the holding area should be large enough to exhaust heat and moisture. The holding area is where cattle will typically experience the most heat stress, so good design can be important.

Ridge vents can make a dramatic difference by releasing heat from the barn, and they will allow moisture and gases to vent more quickly, too. Uncapped vents work best, but you can also use a ridge cap with one foot of clearance.

With the hot summer months not too far off, now’s a good time to think about what sort of cooling you’re providing your livestock. Keeping your livestock cool in summer will help them to avoid heat related illness and help them maintain healthy productivity levels. How do you keep your animals cool through the summer? Tell us in the comments!