Beat heat stress
With the European summer only weeks away, it is time to start preparing management strategies for heat stress. This issue has traditionally been associated with the hotter regions in Europe, such as the Mediterranean. However, as climate change continues to impact temperature, European countries deemed to have a more temperate climate must also be aware of and prepare to take action against heat stress.
When cows are suffering from heat stress, there are several indicators that can be observed. Often, the first indicator is a reduction in dry matter intake. This can be followed by a change in behaviour, combined with quickened breathing and excessive panting. This leads to difficulties in maintaining efficient rumen function, which results in decreased milk production and longer periods between conception. The cow’s maintenance needs will also increase, as the animal can be at greater risk of contracting diseases, such as subacute ruminal acidosis and laminitis. All of these negative heat stress effects will lower a farm’s ability to maintain efficiency and profitability.
Don’t let your profits dry up this summer!
Follow these top tips to combat the effects of heat stress on your farm.
1. Water management
As temperatures increases, so does the cow’s water intake. However, a large volume of water is lost through increased urinary excretion, sweating and respiration. Therefore, water requirements for lactating cows can increase by 10 percent as temperatures move from 15 degrees Celsius to 26 degrees Celsius. The need for more water will increase as milk production rises and as temperatures rise above 26 degrees Celsius.
A cow’s water intake can be improved by:
- Locating water troughs in shaded areas.
- Ensuring there is an adequate supply of fresh water at the trough.
- Cleaning water troughs regularly.
- Providing sufficient space for the cow at the water trough; there should be a minimum of two linear feet (0.61 metres) per 15–20 cows.
- Cooling the water trough by adding shade.
2. Forage management
It is very important to identify forages that are highly digestible to use during heat stress. This will help maintain intake and energy levels. Ensure a forage’s quality is not compromised by managing the silage face to minimise secondary fermentation.
When packing the silage, make certain that it is tightly compressed and covered sufficiently to avoid spoilage. Remove 6–12 inches of silage from the exposed face of the silo on a daily basis. This will help to keep the silage fresh and will prevent heating.
3. Feeding management
As the temperature and humidity increase, cows will change the time they feed to a cooler period of the day. A greater proportion of the feed should be provided later in the day, when the temperature has dropped. This will help to avoid secondary fermentation and drive consumption.
Three to four hours after cows feed, they will experience excess heat production due to the digestion process. By moving the feeding time to later in the day, the cow will have the opportunity to digest the food when the temperature is cooler. This allows the increased internal heat production to be more tolerable for the cow.
At the end of each day, it is important to clean out feed bunks. This will help to keep the feed fresh and will reduce the possible effects of heating or spoilage as well as lower the risk of secondary fermentation.
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