While 80 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my favorite blonde cowgirl, 55 degrees is “short sleeve” weather for my cattle. Cattle (at least those of northern origin) are much more cold tolerant than heat tolerant. The weather in Nebraska is often one of extremes, and spring and summer are marked by temperature fluxes of upward of forty degrees in any given day.
While Megan and I can take off our favorite hooded sweatshirts as the temperature swings, cattle are left with the same hair coat on any given day. Beginning in early April, my animals begin to shed their heavy winter coats but it is a gradual process for them. Cattle can acclimate to warmer temperatures approximately one degree per day and, once acclimated to summer, have an upper critical temperature threshold in the low to mid 80’s.
When temperatures soar above the critical threshold, my job as cattle caregiver becomes even more important. In particular, providing a constant source of fresh cool water is vital as higher temperatures result in a double in a bovine’s water requirement (from 10% of body weight to 20% of body weight). Next to water, air flow / wind is a bovine’s best friend. Wind will decrease the heat index temperatures equal to the MPH strength of the air flow, and also tends to decrease humidity which makes temperatures more comfortable.
We have a list of heat management protocols that we follow at the feed yard to aid our animals in the heat of the summer months:
- Process/Handle/Ship cattle in the early morning hours (after they have had the chance to cool off with the nighttime lows and before the heat of the next day begins).
- Make sure that there is good air flow in all of the home pens.
- Make sure that the fresh water reserve is adequate to refill cattle water tanks quickly as animals have higher volume water needs. We have an additional water well that we use in the summer months to ensure adequate water availability.
- Decrease the number of animals held in each home pen to increase accessibility to both water and air flow.
- Diligent control of weeds and insect pests as those increase the susceptibility of animals to heat stress.
- Careful management of cattle feed rations to maximize cattle comfort.
This year, I am adding an extra tool for heat stress management in an effort to increase the comfort of my animals. I purchased several “cattle shades” to place in pens where larger (closer to market) animals reside. I am excited to see if this increases cattle comfort as we enter into the months of summer.
At this point, we are still patiently waiting for some warmer temperatures, but I can report that my animals appear to enjoy both rubbing/scratching on the bases of the shades as well as napping in the shade underneath them. This pen of steers pictured was incredibly fascinated by my favorite blonde as she posed for a photo shoot on one of the cattle shades. They gathered up behind her curiously until she decided to jump up on the bars and go for a swing!
They must have sensed her desire to play because as she got down from the shade arm several of them came running back up to her. In typical Megan fashion, she laughed as she turned toward them and asked them to move out of her space.
Megan’s kind of sunshine doesn’t need any shade…