5 Steps to Prepare Your Dairy Farm for the Summer
As summer approaches, the risk of heat stress rises for dairy cows. Here are our 5 Steps to Prepare Your Dairy Farm for the Summer. The ideal temperature range for cows is -4 to 21 degrees Celsius (25-70 degrees Fahrenheit); anytime the weather goes above this range, cows begin to overheat. Cows can cool themselves through sweating and panting, but these cooling methods are not very efficient, particularly when the humidity makes it harder for evaporative cooling to take place.
When cows experience heat stress, dairy production decreases by about a gallon per day. Cows under heat stress also become less fertile. These issues can have a significant economic impact on dairy farms, big and small. With the proper planning, however, you can minimize the risk of heat stress for your cows. The following 5 steps outline how to prepare your dairy farm for the summer:
1. Provide Shade
Over the summer, cows are the most comfortable in the shade. This might be inside of a barn. In outdoor spaces, trees, permanent structures, and portable shade cloths are all effective options for providing shade.
2. Set Up a Cool Barn
In order to be comfortably cool, barns need to have ventilation. In areas that also experience cold weather, removable panels on at least two sides can provide natural ventilation. On days without wind, you will need fans to provide sufficient airflow.
3. Install Fans and Sprinklers
Depending on how hot your summers are, you may need a combination of fans and sprinklers. In hot and humid weather, fans move air but do not cool it, making it harder for cows to cool down. There are several kinds of evaporative cooling systems that use water to help cool cows. Sprinkler and mister systems are the most popular: these use brief bursts of water, followed by fans, to wet cows and then evaporate the water to cool them. Some farms also use fogging systems that cool the air before it reaches the cows. The best system for you will depend on the size of your farm, your capacity for maintenance, and your barn design.
4. Adjust Feed and Water
Cows eat less dry matter during the summer in order to reduce the heat produced by rumen fermentation. This decrease in feed is the primary cause of the drop in dairy production. To prepare your dairy farm for summer, plan to switch to a nutrient-dense feed ration. You will particularly want to increase rumen inert fat and protein levels. As an added step, you can change feed times to earlier in the morning or later in the evening, so cows can eat when the temperature is lower. During the summer, it is especially important to make sure that cows always have access to clean water. Plan to have about 25 gallons per cow per day.
5. Look for Heat Stress Signs
Your farm staff should be trained to look for signs of heat stress in cattle. These include decreased activity, decreased feeding, and crowding in the shade. Cows undergoing heat stress will also show open mouth breathing and sometimes drooling. In extreme conditions, they may tremble or lose their balance. It is important to know these signs so that you can take steps to increase cooling if you notice them.