Keeping Cows Cool

       How Cool is Your Cow? Heating and eating can hurt milk production

     A new study conducted by the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences has found that playing it cool with your cows could be the key to a profitable business, especially in the dairy market.

     The study is examining the effects of feed on heat production in cows to determine if different feed components produce different heating temperatures during the digestive process. If true, simply adjusting feed rations could help keep your cows cooler in the summer, which could directly affect a cow’s productivity.

Keep the Milk Cool
Cows are less able than humans to get rid of excess heat because they have less surface area compared to internal body mass and, as a result, can become stressed when the thermometer rises above 77 degrees Fahrenheit. In the country’s most populated pastures, summertime and springtime temps can usually far exceed that relatively moderate environment, sometimes for more than six months out of the year.

     Dairy cows are most comfortable when outside temperatures are in the 40s and 50s. But while many dairies have sprinklers, fans and shelters to help cows stay cool it often isn't enough during summers, when temperatures can rise into the 80s during the evening and overnight.

     Research has shown that a hot cow will eat less and, as a result, give less milk. In some cases, milk production has dropped by as much as 20 percent during the summer. Heat stress can hinder reproduction, too, and lead to health problems, not to mention worsening disposition, which could affect the herd.

Eat = Heat
Apart from rising summer temperatures, eating can cause a cow’s body temperature to rise as well. A meal high in fibrous carbohydrates takes more energy to digest, generating more heat inside the already uncomfortable cow. A diet high in fat; however, takes less energy to digest and therefore generates less heat.

     A dairy cow can eat 100 pounds of feed each day and give 11 gallons of milk daily. The study hopes to show that mixing common feed components like cottonseed, alfalfa hay, soybean hulls and corn silage into a ration will keep cows from producing excessive heat during digestion while still getting the nutrients they need, thus ensuring maximum milk production.

     If so, a rancher needs only to adjust feed rations when the thermometer begins to climb to help keep his or her cows cooler—and more productive—in the summer.

     The ideal outcome is ranchers could have an easy—and affordable—method to keep their cows from producing increased total body heat during eating and digestion.

     The end result makes the cow comfortable, more likely to consume more feed and, as a result, use the nutrients more efficiently. When you add all that up, it means not only a more comfortable cow, but one that produces more milk at a time when milk production has historically slowed.

     In the end, the rancher could see a potential increase in profits and could enjoy a more stable income due to a milk production schedule that doesn’t rise and fall with the thermometer.

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