Cooling your cows this summer
NOW that the hot weather is here, it is a good time to think about the immediate actions that can be taken to minimise heat stress in the herd.
There are severe consequences for heat-stressed cows – decreased milk production, reduced feed intake, potential loss of body condition, mastitis, potential to not conceive or to abort, and many other animal health related symptoms.
There are short and long-term risk management practices that can be implemented to reduce the impact of hot weather.
The Cool Cows program developed by Dairy Australia offers a suite of resources, guiding you to areas of your farm that can benefit from some simple immediate actions.
If you know the day is going to be high risk for heat stress, you can plan to change your daily routine, getting cows milked and fed before 10am in the morning and delaying afternoon milking time to after 5pm.
This can make a big difference to cows coping with heat.
Think about how far you are asking the cows to walk in the hottest part of the day (about 3pm) and on extreme days, avoid walking the cows to the dairy until after 4pm.
You may consider changing your paddock rotation, keeping cows on a sacrifice paddock or cool stand-off area.
Sprinklers provide a huge benefit to cows.
Suggestions are to have sprinklers that can operate on a 15-minute cycle where the system is on for one to three minutes and then remains turned off until the commencement of the next cycle.
This allows enough time for cows to be wet to the point that excess water does not drip down the udders, as it is important to not increase the risk of mastitis. You also don’t want extra water contributing to the effluent stream.
You can hose down the collecting yard before bringing in the cows. This will cool down the concrete surface and will help to keep your cows cooler. In combination with sprinklers, fans and ventilation systems in the dairy also keep cows cool.
During extreme hot weather, a cow will reduce her feed intake and try to consume most of her feed in cooler parts of the day. This can compromise rumen function, causing a wider variation in rumen pH and a greater risk of ruminal acidosis.
A diet that combines high-quality fibre with increased energy and a high rate of buffers can help minimise these effects.
For high-producing herds, it is even more important to manage diet and it would be worth discussing with your nutritionist other options like slowly fermentable sources of starch, feeding partial-mixed rations and fat supplementation.
During the cooler times of the year, some longer-term solutions can be implemented.
These include installing water troughs, shade cloth over the dairy yard and a roof over the feed pad, depending on the farm’s feeding system.
For the even longer term, you could plant trees across the farm to provide shade, but ensure you do this as part of your whole-farm plan.
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