“For those animals in the hot, dry parts of the province, adequate cool, good quality and readily available water is key to coping with heat stress,” says Andrea Hanson, livestock extension specialist with Alberta Agriculture and Forestry.
“While sweating does help some with temperature regulation, consumption of water is one of the quickest ways for cattle to reduce their body core temperature. With the rise in temperature, the amount of water that the animals drink will also increase.”
Hanson says fatter cattle are more at risk than lighter conditioned animals. “As well, darker hided animals will typically suffer heat stress sooner than animals with lighter color hides. When cattle are panting or possibly slobbering, they are experiencing heat stress. Just like humans, the very young and old cattle are more prone to experience heat stress.”
Creating an action plan to reduce heat stress is important. Planning preventative measures before temperatures reach critical levels will reduce the impact on cattle. This may require providing more water troughs in the field to account for the higher water demand.
Although calves get some of their water requirements from milk, Hanson says calves also need free access to clean drinking water. It is also important the calves are not pushed out of the way by boss animals. If possible, set out water troughs for the calves in areas where the cows cannot enter, similar to having creep feeder areas.
“Providing shade allows the animals to better regulate their body temperatures. If there is a field with trees available, let the animals access that area. If trees are not an option, move the portable windbreaks used in the winter as a source of shade.”
If the animals are in an area where a sprinkler can be set up, soaking the animals with large water drops provides a way for them to cool their body temperature. Hanson says not to mist the cattle as that just increases the relative humidity around the animals and may compound the problem.
Finally, says Hanson, if at all possible, avoid handling or moving cattle during the hot periods of the day or during heat waves. If this must be done, do it in the early morning when temperatures are lower and the cattle have had at least six hours of night cooling before they are handled or moved.
Managing exposure to pests is also important. “When animals are pestered by flies and mosquitos, they spend more time moving around trying to get away from the pestilence and may go through fences. As a result, livestock are constantly moving, not eating and are not gaining weight.”
“There are a number of products on the market that can provide some relief in the form of pour on, ingestible and tags,” says Barry Yaremcio, beef and forage specialist at the Alberta Ag-Info Centre. “Providing an oiler that dispenses an insecticide helps reduce the urge for cattle to rub and scratch themselves on barbed wire fences. To get the product that is right for the farm, check with your local veterinarian.”
There are also mineral products available on the market from different feed companies that help reduce problems with insects, especially horn flies. “As long as your area is not under a fire ban, using a smoke smudge may also bring some relief to the herd.”
And Hanson says don’t forget about the people managing the animals. “Be sure to use bug spray when out in the pastures, minimize the strenuous work done during the highest temperatures, take frequent breaks, drink lots of water and work with someone else so that everyone is monitored for heat exhaustion.”