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Cattle producers prepare for summer heat

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

According to the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center’s (USMARC) Cattle Heat Stress Forecast, much of Wyoming will fall between the “normal” to “alert” heat stress categories in coming weeks. The heat stress forecast maps are predicted using forecasts of temperature, wind speed, humidity and cloud cover. 

“The risk of heat stress is indicated in the predictor using breathing rate,” USMARC notes. “As breathing rates vary, cattle try to maintain heat balance. In order to increase the loss of moisture, cattle will pant. Therefore, breathing rate is an important behavior to watch in cattle during hot weather.”

The USDA Climate Prediction Center temperature outlook predicts a higher probability for warmer than normal temperatures through at least the end of June. 

Erin Laborie, a University of Nebraska Extension Educator says, “Cattle have not acclimated to summer conditions yet, so helping ease this adaptation is critical.” 

Heat stress mitigation

As Wyoming and surrounding states start to experience higher temperatures this summer, Laborie provides some tips to prepare for the summer heat yet to come. 

She explains the importance of providing plenty of fresh water, even if that means additional water sources. 

“When those temperatures get over 80 degrees, cattle require nearly twice as much water,” she says, adding that sometimes this may mean cattle are drinking upwards of 30 gallons of water each day. 

USMARC also recommends water pipes should be at least two feet underground to avoid sun exposure. 

“Water intake decreases when water temperature exceeds 80 degrees Fahrenheit, so water availability as well as temperature is important to consider,” USMARC says. 

Access to water for multiple animals to drink at one time is also important, according to USMARC. 

Providing adequate space per animal plays a role in heat mitigation, as heat radiates off of other animals, notes USMARC. 

Laborie says, “In general, overcrowding has very little production benefit.” 

The other important change to management Laborie explains is working and transporting cattle in the mornings to avoid extreme temperature during the day. She adds working time should be ideally between midnight and 8 a.m. and definitely not any time after 10 a.m.

Monitoring for potential heat events

Laborie notes the importance of producers utilizing their resources to reduce the heat load on cattle. 

“We want to keep an eye out for predicted temperatures in the high 80s and 90s,” she says. “When temperatures remain above 70 degrees during the night, cattle are really unable to recover before the next episode of heat exposure.”

She shares that monitoring the weather for potential heat events and following climate outlooks is important. Recommended resources for producers include temperature-humidity charts, as well as the USMARC Cattle Heat Stress Forecast released every week. 

Laborie concludes, “I just emphasize the importance of being proactive rather than reactive when it comes to heat stress management to help avoid train wrecks.”

            Averi Reynolds is the editor for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to

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