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Dealing with Heat Stressed Beef Cattle

By Dwayne Summach, MSc, PAg, Regional Livestock Specialist, Kindersley

July 2017

Cattle producers in Saskatchewan deal with cold conditions far more often than conditions that are too hot. What is too hot for a beef animal you ask? Cattle that display any of the following behaviours are indicating they are too hot:

Heat stressed cattle will increase their water consumption. As the temperature rises from 25 to 32 degrees Celsius, the amount consumed may increase between 15 and 40 per cent depending upon the class of cattle. Two inches of trough length is recommended for every animal in order to provide enough room for the animals to access water. The animals will also play in the water, splashing it about, turning the ground around the water source into a mud bog.  

When given an option, the cattle will look for a cooler place to be – this means a shaded area. When no shade is available, the cattle will crowd together trying to use their neighbours for shade. Providing shade structures or access to a treed area allows the animals to get out of the direct sunlight and reduce the heat load being generated by the sun.

Grazing cattle will alter their grazing period from early morning to late afternoon and early evening so the heat generated from the digestion of the forage is generated during the cool of the evening. Delivering feed to animals in confinement, in the late afternoon or early evening, mimics this natural change in behaviour and helps stabilize feed intake.

In order to actively lose body heat, cattle will begin shallow panting and progress to vigorous open mouth panting with significant saliva production.

Additional steps to help beef animals mitigate the impacts of heat stress include bedding in drylots to provide a cooler surface to rest on. Sprinkling with large drop sprinklers provides an evaporative cooling effect without letting the ground get wet. Also, avoid working the cattle when you know the temperatures are going to exceed 25 degrees.

The Alberta Agriculture and Forestry factsheet titled “Minimizing Heat Stress in Beef Cattle” or the North Dakota State University factsheet “Dealing with Heat Stress in Beef Cattle Operations” are excellent resources for additional information.

If you have any questions regarding managing heat stress in livestock, contact your Regional Livestock Specialist.

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