How to help cows beat the heat

Mark Gutman/Daily NewsDairy cows are seen in a pasture on East Road in East Bethany on Wednesday.

In the efforts of beating the heat this summer, people sometimes have to go to great lengths to keep cool. Whether they seek out air conditioning or a pool to find some relief from the extreme temperatures this summer, they have many options to choose from.

Cows, however; don’t have as many choices to help them cool off.

“Cows abate heat differently than humans — they don’t sweat like us. At about 1,800 pounds, cows are large animals that give off a lot of heat,” said Kelly Reynolds of Reyncrest Farm in Corfu.

Many farms often use the method of blowing wind lengthwise across the barn to cool their cows. Some farms are seeing a benefit from changing the direction of the wind by having it blowing through the width of the barn instead, which allows for fresh air at both ends of the barn, rather than warm air at the far end of the barn.

Reyncrest Farm is utilizing new methods in its barns to keep its cows cool by installing shades to create cooling temperatures for the cows. It uses activity monitors worn by each cow to track panting, which is the way cows abate heat.

“We found that with shade cloth, it makes our cows want to lay down in the stalls near the shades and relax more. If they are uncomfortable, they are more likely to be restless and, as a result, walk around the pen,” said Reynolds. “Think about it, you don’t want to lay on the couch if it’s next to a hot window, so you’ll close the blinds.”

She continued, “Our cows wear collars that have a pedometer, so we can see how much they are walking and moving around.”

Another method used to cool cows is evaporative cooling, which is used quite often.

“Evaporative cooling is when the air is cooled through the evaporation of water. So, we get the cows wet — either by putting them under a sprinkler or wetting them down with a hose — and then put them under a fan, allowing the water to rise and the air above the cows to get cooler. Ultimately, it’s the water and fans working together to cool down our cows,” said Reynolds.

It’s important to keep the cow’s temperature at a regulated temperature because if the animals get too hot, there is risk of lowered production of milk. In addition to the risk of production loss, there is an increased cost in the summer to keeping cows cool.

“While milk quality is not affected by the heat, the quantity might decrease. That’s because our cows’ bodies are working hard to stay cool. The energy and calories usually going to produce milk is now being used to help cool themselves down. Once the temperatures are more comfortable — our cows like it below 75 degrees — their milk quantity will increase,” said Reynolds. “For us, yes, there is an increased cost that we incur at Reyncrest Farm during a heat wave. We use city water, which results in a higher water bill, and because of our use of fans to help the airflow in the barn, we also have a higher electric bill.”

No matter which method of cooling you choose to implement in your barns — whether it be the use of a climate-controlled thermostat; evaporative cooling; directional fans; cooling shades; or sprinklers, it’s important to consider how the cows are handling the heat.

“I know some farms will bring barn specialists out to look at their facilities, and we bring experts out to our farm as well to help in our decision-making process. We consult with our nutritionist, but there are also companies that build barns and offer consulting services. Some of the decisions made about how to blow air are based on the direction the barn is facing — whether it’s north to south or east to west, it might make more sense to blow across the barn versus lengthwise down the barn,” said Reynolds.

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