This summer has been a disaster for dairy farmers. There are stories coming out of the San Joaquin Valley about the livestock operators potentially seeing a 50% to 100% increase in herd mortality thanks to the record breaking heat. Summer 2020 was one of the hottest on record for dozens of U.S. cities, and experts believe 2021 will continue the trend of higher than average extreme weather events. We’ve entered a new norm.
As a result, more dairy farmers have been exploring ways to keep their herds cooler, working to mitigate the increased risk to cattle health and production. Below you’ll find some of the most pressing threats to dairy cattle health – and some of the strategies farmers worldwide are exploring to keep their animals cool.
Major Risks to Dairy Cattle from Heat Stress
Air temperature and radiant temperature have an impact on how well dairy cattle are able to regulate their internal temperature. Cattle pant and drool to help disperse their internal heat, but these methods are only so effective – especially during high humidity. Even if cattle survive extreme weather events, there is still a great risk to their viability as livestock. Dairy farmers operations feel these consequences in two main ways:
- Impaired milk production – Lactating cows feel an added strain from extreme heat. Milk with a desirable blend of fat, protein, casein and lactose content requires a lot of energy to produce. Extreme heat forces lactating cows into a survival mode, reducing the overall quality of their milk for their calves and consumption. Plus, the reduced feed intake during these events makes it harder for cattle to replenish their stores of nutrients and organic compounds
- Lowering cattle reproduction rates – Pregnancies can already dehydrate cows under normal conditions, but a rise in ambient temperatures can reduce their ability to regulate their own body temperature. Prolonged exposure to extreme heat can result in losses well into even the second or third trimester.
Heat Stress Management Tactics
Since lactating and pregnant cattle are particularly susceptible to elevated heat, dairy farmers will need to be more vigilant about how they address this issue. Though some long-standing heat management methods such as plentiful shade, ventilation, air movement and even evaporative cooling are useful, emerging strategies might be more effective in the future:
- Genetic selection – Breeding cattle for specific traits is a practice as old as farming itself. Yet there are newer approaches to this method that show promising results. Some suggest the potential to introduce genes from more heat-tolerant breeds (think the Senepol breed found in the Virgin Islands) to shorten hair growth or increase resilience.
Dairy farmers will need to find a balance between milk productivity and heat resistance, but this is at the very least an interesting approach to bolstering herds’ resistance to the effects of scorching summers.
- Dairy cattle feed efficiency – Genetics are long-term thinking, but what about right now? A simple way to support dairy cows through this difficult time is by cultivating a healthy gut. When the bacteria within a cow’s GI tract are provided with the right compounds and probiotics, they contribute to increased wellbeing and more robust nutrient utilization.
The challenge is finding the right blend of feed ingredients that can offer results. Fortunately, dairy farmers don’t need to reinvent their feed regimen. By adding a small amount of Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed to feed mixture, they can provide their dairy herd with a wide variety of nutrients and organic compounds that foster good gut health.
This way, lactating and pregnant cows don’t need to struggle under a lack of essential nutrients – they’ll have the energy and resources they need to thrive in the harsher conditions of our warming world.
Want to learn about how dairy cattle and heat stress can be addressed with all-natural seaweed? Reach out to our people to request a sample.