The sweat ran down my brow, hung on the tip of my nose as 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 you would be kept warm at anyway — a combination of physical exertion and the heat from being constantly up close to the cows means a jacket is never needed.
In the extreme heat of the last few days, I’ve been finding myself stopping after every few cows for a long swig of water.
“We’re not built for this kind of weather” said the farmer, who was sitting in his jeep beside the crush with the air-con turned up full blast. His job of documenting cows numbers and days pregnant was certainly easier then mine.
On the other hand, my job, even on this scorching hot day, was an awful lot easier than that of the cows.
Once temperatures get above 26°C, life starts to get difficult for cows.
As the temperature rises, particularly as it has over the past few days, cows suffer from heat stress. Their bodies have to go into over drive in an attempt to keep cool.
Although cows do sweat, they don’t do so in the same amounts as humans.
The main way cows keep cool is through their breathing. So, when a cow begins to overheat, her respiratory rate will increase to the point that she will appear to pant, akin to an animal with pneumonia.
Cows also radiate heat from their bodies which I am now all to familiar with, as lately it feels like I’ve been scanning black and white radiators turned up to the max setting.
Cows will spend more time standing during hot weather to increase the surface area of their bodies from which heat can radiate outward.
Radiating heat and panting are very successful when temperatures are just slightly above what a cow is normally used to. However, with temperatures hitting 31°C, these methods alone just aren’t enough.
One of the things a cow will do as the temperatures rise is reduce her feed intake — she can cut dry matter intake by up to 30pc. With less food, the body will produce less heat.
Lower feed intake, though, reduces milk yield.
When temperatures exceed 30°C, farmers have reported a reduction in milk yield of up to 40pc.
At over 50c/L and many herds still averaging over 20L/cow/day, this could put a dent in your pocket of up to €4/cow/day. Scary stuff.
Other signs of heat stress include cows bunching together in the paddock, or around water troughs, and seeking out even the tiniest bit of shade.
Cows will salivate more and they will drink a lot more. On hot days, a cow’s water intake will increase dramatically, up to 110L in a day. So a 100-cow herd will need 11,000L of water per day in current weather conditions. That’s an awful lot of water.
And a cow can drink this water at 14L per minute. If your water system can’t supply a good enough flow, it will be very apparent. Cows will bunch around a water trough, not giving it time to fill up even a few centimetres from the bottom.
Heat stress has many knock-on effects along with reduced milk yield.
Embryo loss is a common side effect. We often hear of cows that were meant to be in calf ‘breaking’ a week or more after very hot weather.
Stress-induced diseases such as IBR are quite common too.
So, what can we do to minimise the effects of the high temperatures on our cows?
Providing shade is very important. Even if this means deviating from the rotation planner and giving cows access to another paddock with more/less grass on it, so be it. As long as there are trees or a hedge that will provide shade, then its worth it for a few days.
If this isn’t an option, then consider not locking the cows into their paddock during the day and instead, leaving them access back into the shed. They don’t even have to have access to the cubicles. The shade that the roof provides can make a huge difference.
Water is probably the most important thing to consider. If a paddock hasn’t enough water troughs or good enough flow, give the cows access to another paddock as well or allow them back into the shed to access the troughs in there.
Make sure troughs are cleaned thoroughly. Cows won’t drink enough water if the trough is full of algae or has dead vegetation rotting in the bottom of it.
Consider milking earlier in the morning and later in the evening to avail of the lower temperatures at these times.
Avoid unnecessary handling or transport of cows, as anything out of the ordinary that causes cows to exert themselves will greatly increase the chances of them suffering from heat stress.
I have been focusing on cows, but all groups of animals are at risk during very hot weather.
Calves in particular need to be looked after, 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 bringing them in the tractor or the car until temperatures cool down again.
Take care of yourself too. This weather is the perfect excuse to slow down for a few days. Lots of sunscreen, plenty of bottles of water and keep to the shade when you can.
If in doubt, a 99 with a flake is the solution to most of life’s problems.
Eamon O’Connell is a vet with Summerhill Vet Clinic, Nenagh, Co Tipperary
Denial of responsibility! planetcirculate is an automatic aggregator around the global media. All the content are available free on Internet. We have just arranged it in one platform for educational purpose only. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials on our website, please contact us by email – [email protected]. The content will be deleted within 24 hours.