5 Tips To Keep Cattle Comfortable In Summer Heat

In the high heat of summer, cattle need some extra attention to ensure they're not overloaded. So keep these tips in mind to keep your animals cool and comfortable.

by Ashleigh Krispense
PHOTO: Mariliis Kutsar/Shutterstock

Summertime heat in the Midwest can be for cattle. Extremely hot days with glaring sun are only made bearable by blowing breeze and the welcome cover of shade from nearby trees.

Different livestock animals possess unique features to help them survive and adapt to different environment. Cattle are no exception. But there are a few things we can do to make them a little more comfortable.

What kind of weather combination is so hard on cattle? Is it the sun and high temperatures that beats them down or is it high humidity?

It’s actually a combination of both.

Dry, 95 degree F heat, for example, is unpleasant but not unbearable. But it’s when that 95 degree F day is coupled with 80 percent humidity that lasts for a majority of the day that animals can become overloaded.

In The Cattle Health Handbook, author Heather Thomas notes that any air temperature above 80 degrees F can cause heat stress when paired with 75 percent humidity. (That is, if it stays above 80 degrees F 24 hours a day, even through the night.)

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During High Heat, Look for These Signs in Your Cattle

So how do you know if an animal has overheated?

What are some physical signs you look for? When visiting with a local rancher, he said that in extreme cases, you’ll notice:

  • rapid breathing
  • frothing at the mouth
  • possibly even the tongue hanging out

He mentioned that cattle will also pace back and forth, trying to find a cooler spot. Here are a few key things you can put in place to help make the summer season a bit more bearable for cattle.

1. Offer plenty of fresh, cool water

Water is a necessary requirement for any season and time of the year. But during the summer, it’s critical.

According to Thomas, cattle need more than 4 gallons of water per 100 pounds of body weight, if the temperature is over 95 degrees. For a 500-pound animal, that’s over 20 gallons of water per day.

(Water intake will vary dependent on the kind of cattle you have, if they’re steers or lactating cows, etc.)

As for water sources, if your cattle are dependent on a pond for their water supply, be sure to check it often. (If it’s not very large or is prone to leaking from time to time, check daily.) Also, have a back-up plan ready just in case it goes dry.

In my last article about putting cattle out on grass, we mentioned a few different water sources you could use. These include reliable streams or rivers, ponds or windmills.

A last resort is always to haul water to a stock tank. This can be a pain. But some way or another, you must make sure the cattle have plenty of water available at all times.

Read more: Here are the key things to know when putting cattle on pasture.

2. Provide sunshades or trees

For cattle in feedlots, sunshades are a great option to help give cattle a break from the golden rays. A couple things to consider as you set up your shade are the location and size of shadow it will cast, and the material it is made of.

A shade would be best located toward the middle of a pen. There, it will be easily accessible as the shadow moves throughout the day.

3. Feed at the correct time of day

When feeding cattle during the summer, avoid feeding them in the heat of the day. Preferably, feed during the early morning and late evening.

Cattle produce heat as they digest forages and feed. So if not fed early enough in the day, they will end up digesting food midday during the peak of the heat.

Another advantage of feeding early is that cattle will be more willing to eat while it’s cooler out. As it heats up, they’ll pick around and eat less.

4. Provide salt and minerals

Just like people will drink sports drinks to get electrolytes, it’s important to help your cattle out by offering salt and mineral blocks in easily accessible areas.

Both sodium and minerals are lost through body fluids and sweating. If not replaced, cattle will fair even worse in the heat.

Read more: Be careful when providing minerals, as not all animal needs are the same.

5. Let the animals rest

Move and work the cattle as little as possible during the heat of the day. Whether it is working and vaccinating them, walking them to a different location, or physically loading and transporting them, it’s best to wait until it cools off.

When hauling them somewhere, you can make sure that there is plenty of airflow in the trailer and that animals are loaded loosely. Avoid packing them in too tight.

Overall, just do your best to keep the animals comfortable during the summer. Don’t work or rush them, offer plenty of water, minerals and shade, and be patient with them.

If you have questions, reach out to someone around you—whether it’s a vet or local rancher/farmer. It will cool off soon enough. But in the meantime, go jump in the pond.

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