Cow Tales from the Dairy Farm – Cool as a Cucumber
Phew, is it hot outside!!!
Now that the rain has finally subsided for a few minutes here in the Northeast, it is time for the sun to shine on down. We are starting to catch up with our 1st cutting hay (really late this year!!) and spraying the corn fields (now that we can get in them without sinking in a foot). While all of this is going on, we also need to focus on keeping everyone cool since the temperature is starting to really kick into high gear.
A high-production Holstein cow can start to feel heat stress at around 68 degrees, which is a comfy temperature for us humans, so we need to start thinking like our bovine friends instead. What makes them happy? Shade, cool drinking water and a nice breeze are the ways to reduce heat stress in any animal, not just cattle. My girls have a three-sided freestall barn they can hang out in that stays pretty cool, but they also have a few shady spots out in the pasture they like to frequent. While in the milking barn, they enjoy pushing each other out of the way to get to stand in front of some large circulation fans that keep the air moving.
Many farmers use a combination of shade, fans and sprinkler systems to keep cattle cooler to maintain high milk production. When using these three things together, you can reduce heat stress and make cows feel 10 to 20 degrees cooler. When using a sprinkler system, it is important to remember lactating cows can get wet, but not soaked down to their udder. Water can harbor diseases, which can cause mastitis or raise your somatic cell count, which will in turn reduce milk production. Here at FarmTek, we use two controllers at the same time to keep sprinklers cycling on and off, giving the cows a chance to get wet, but not completely soaked down to their udder. This two-controller system also allows for better water utilization. Having sprinklers run for 2 minutes every 12 minutes is going to reduce overall water usage, while still cooling the cows off. Using this system along with some high CFM circulation fans, will give the cows a fantastic cooling sensation, which will keep them producing high quantities of milk.
Placement of these sprinkler systems is just as important as how long the systems run. Placing 180-degree sprinklers over the feed line will keep cows coming back to eat their feed because it will be cooler than anywhere else in the barn. Make sure you do not install the sprinklers over the bedded area (pack barn or free stalls) as we want to keep the bedding as dry as possible. Instead, install extra fans in that area. Cows will stand to eat and get wet, then eventually go lay in their stalls to dry off.
Another place to keep in mind when installing sprinklers and fans is the parlor. Cows will be packed into the holding area, but not for too long, so it is OK to install systems that do not have the two-controller combination and let the sprinklers run during all of milking. Many customers have chosen to install fan cooler kits over circulation fans to do a more direct misting. Another option is to have 360-degree sprinklers in the return alley so the cows get wet as they leave the area, cooling them off more rapidly.
Anything you do to prevent heat stress in your lactating cows will pay you back both immediately and long term. Keeping cows comfortable will not only maintain current milk production, but also allow for cows to show better heats, so they can be bred faster. Summer is one of the hardest times on cows (and us), so making it more comfortable will keep milk in the tank. Stay cool this summer, and make hay while the sun shines!