The dog days of summer are upon us, and that means cattlemen need to be critically aware of handling heat stress when working or shipping cattle. Here are some top tips to keep both your cattle and your banker cool and comfortable.

According to Glenn Selk, an Oklahoma State University (OSU) Extension reproduction specialist, cattle have an upper critical temperature approximately 20°F. cooler than humans. When humans are uncomfortable at 80° F. and feel hot at 90° F., Selk explains cattle may well be in the danger zone for extreme heat stress.

"At an environmental temperature of about 88° F., heat dissipation mechanisms such as sweating and evaporative cooling must take place to prevent a rise in body temperature," Selk says in an issue of OSU’s Cattlemen’s Corner. "Sweat gland activity in cattle increases as the temperature goes above the thermoneutral zone."

In simple terms, think of the thermoneutral zone as the range of temperatures at which cattle don't have to expend additional energy to maintain a normal body temperature. In the case of heat, for instance, sweating and panting are things cattle do to maintain a normal body temperature, and that effort requires energy.

Selk offers these recommendations to manage heat stress:

  • "During hot weather, cattle should be worked before 8 a.m., if possible, with all cattle working completed by about 10 a.m. While it may seem to make sense to work cattle after sundown, they will need at least 6 hours of night cooling before enough heat is dissipated to cool down from an extremely hot day.
     
  • "Cattle that must be handled during hot weather should spend less than 30 minutes in the working facility. Dry lot pens and corrals loaded with cattle will have very little if any air movement. Cattle will gain heat constantly while they are in these areas. Therefore a time limit of a half hour in the confined cattle working area should limit the heat gain and therefore the heat stress."

Selk also emphasizes making every effort to provide cool, fresh water to cattle in closely confined areas for any length of time.

"During hot weather conditions, cattle will drink more than 1% of their bodyweight/hour." Selk explains. "Producers need to be certain that the water supply lines are capable of keeping up with demand, if working cattle during hot weather."

Likewise, Terry Mader, University of Nebraska Extension beef cattle specialist at the Northeast Research and Extension Center in Concord, offers these tips for mitigating heat stress:

  • Provide extra water tanks/capacity
     
  • Sprinkle hot dry ground and/or cattle
     
  • Spray for flies
     
  • Shade cattle that have the most finish
     
  • Don't increase feed intake aggressively if there's a brief cooling period
     
  • If the ground is hot, applying bedding may be effective; recommendations call for wetting it down.

 

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