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High temperatures lead to heat stress in cattle

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

As weather conditions transition from the cool spring to hot summer, it is important for producers to keep an eye on how their livestock are responding. Rapid changes in temperature are not easy on anyone, and this type of event can place a large strain on cattle.  

“Cattle have had little opportunity to adjust to the summer heat,” University of Nebraska Extension Educator Erin Laborie says in the Beef Watch podcast dated June 11.  

“This combination of warm temperatures, high humidity and lack of air movement really causes some concern as far as cattle experiencing heat stress,” Laborie continues. “Cattle really don’t handle heat stress as well as we do.” 

Regulating heat

Cattle regulate heat differently than humans. 

Laborie, focusing on how cattle control internal heat, explains, “Their thermal natural zone – which is the range in temperature in which they don’t use additional energy to maintain their core body temperature – generally is about 32 degrees to 75 degrees.” 

This range is impacted by metabolic size, hair coat and plane of nutrition. However, when an animal’s core temperature is outside of this range, issues may occur. 

“Any time an animal’s temperature gets above their upper critical temperature, they have to expend energy in attempt to dissipate heat,” says Laborie. 

Panting, elevated respiration and heart rate are all signs cattle are reaching their heat tolerance. Watching for those signs can help cattle producers understand their livestock. 

Addressing the issue 

In an attempt to help producers better manage the heat, Laborie shares some tips to help cattle producers care for their animals.  

“The first tip, which may seem like the most obvious, is providing plenty of fresh water and space around the water tanks,” Laborie explains. “When we see temperatures get above 80 degrees, cattle will drink nearly twice as much water.” 

To make sure cattle have plenty of fresh water, Laborie recommends checking flow rates and putting out extra water.  

Laborie also recommends sprinklers to cool cattle. 

If using sprinklers, Laborie cautions, “Producers want to be cautious of high humidity and make sure to not use sprinklers in those situations because that will make the problem worse.” 

“Removal of extra manure can also help, because when the manure builds up it can hold moisture and increase humidity as well,” Laborie says, adding more suggestions for producers. “Setting pens and providing shade can help decrease surface temperature and can reduce the heat on cattle by 20 degrees,”  

Finally, Laborie stresses the importance of a good air flow system, noting, “Providing proper air flow can really help dissipate heat, whether producers do that by incorporating tall mounds or if they have extra pens available to space cattle out.” 

All of those suggestions are intended for everyday management of heat stress in cattle. When it comes to moving cattle, Laborie has other recommendations for producers. 

“For cattle needing to be worked or transported, I recommend completing the task early in the morning and not any time after 10 a.m,” says Laborie. 

Watching for heat 

Putting these practices into action should help mitigate heat stress in cattle. Still, it is important to know exactly when these practices will be most effective.  

Laborie says, “Keep an eye out for predicated temperatures in the high 80s and 90s, especially if it is following a rain or the wind speed is going to be less than five miles per hour.” 

In addition, Laborie recommends places to watch for these warm conditions, sharing, “The temperature humidity index is a good source. It tells producers if they are in danger or experiencing emergency levels in regards to heat stress.” 

Laborie also recommends checking the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center website for weekly heat forecasts. 

Most importantly, Laborie concludes, “I reiterate the importance of trying to be proactive and keeping an eye out for potential heat stress in cattle.” 

Savannah Peterson is an intern for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to 

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