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Identifying/Coping with Heat Stress in Cattle

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June 6, 2019

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

Amy Taylor: Today we're talking about identifying and coping with heat stress in cattle.

Hello, I'm Amy Taylor, and welcome to farm and Family.

Today we're speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Mississippi State University Extension Service Beef Cattle Specialist.

Brandi, why should beef cattle producers be concerned about heat stress in their herds?

Brandi Karisch: Well, Amy, as we enter these summer months and we see temperatures and humidity on the rise, we often are more concerned with increasing our air conditioning in our own houses for ourselves, but we also need to think about taking care of our cattle and the effects that heat and humidity can have on them.

There's been some previous estimates that have shown that heat stress alone costs the beef industry $370 million in economic losses. Heat stress can affect growth, milk, reproduction, and carcass rates. Particularly in Mississippi, the high heat, in combination with the high humidity, can cause some problems.

Amy Taylor: What are the concerns that producers should have with growing cattle in this heat?

Brandi Karisch: Well, Amy, one of the things that producers with growing cattle have to consider is the negative effect that heat stress has on those calves intake.

If we think about what we like to do in the summer months, most of us don't like to eat in the heat of the day, and cattle are the same way.

You've likely observed or reduced feed intake during the hot summer months and this in turn results in fewer nutrients getting into those growing calves. That's going to impact gains for the stalker producer or the heifer developer who's trying to grow those cattle out and might not reach that final projected weight by the end of those summer months.

Amy Taylor: What are some signs of heat stress that we have to look for?

Brandi Karisch: The first thing that producers will probably notice is just simply an increase in breathing rate. As the heat stress progress's, particularly if cattle don't have a way to alleviate that, you might see some panting or some slobbering. In extreme cases, if we don't do anything to alleviate that heat stress, those cattle might go down and simply not get back up again.

 Whenever we start observing those first signs of heat stress, it's really important that we do whatever we can to try to alleviate that stress.

Amy Taylor: Tell me about the steps that we must take to reduce heat stress.

Brandi Karisch: Well, there are a few simple things that might already be in place on your farm or ranch. One simple thing is just simply not transporting cattle in the heat of the day, and we're not handling or processing cattle during the heat of the day. If cattle must be worked, or cattle must be moved during those hot summer months, it's best to plan the travel or the cattle work in during the early morning or the late evenings, during those cooler portions of the day.

It's really important that whenever those cattle are handled at any point in time during the day that we use those low stress techniques. If we're hauling cattle and they must be hauled during the heat of the day, it's really important that we don't stop and leave them on that trailer because it can get really hot there.

Another really important thing to consider is that those cattle always have a fresh, clean source of cool drinking water. Water is really important for combating heat stress. These sources are even more important as temperatures and humidity continue to rise.

One thing to consider during the summer months is to be sure that your water source is large enough and provides enough water flow to accommodate all of the cattle that you have in that pasture that are going to be drinking all at one time.

Another obvious thing that we might often take for granted is shade. I know Doctor Parish recently discussed the importance of shade. I'll just reiterate, shade is really important. It serves to reduce that thermal load, particularly those black cattle. That black hide will absorb that heat a good bit, so it's important that we provide shade by trees, buildings, or even portable shade structures.

Amy Taylor: Any closing thoughts?

Brandi Karisch: Well, Amy, it's really important for producers to develop a plan and to consider the impacts of heat stress on their herd before the temperatures start to get too high.

It's important to consider lots of options for mitigating that heat stress, and hopefully, by considering those options and having that plan in place there'll be able to reduce those production losses before temperatures become too excessive.

Amy Taylor: For more information, where can we go?

Brandi Karisch: As always, if they want more information, they can visit our beef cattle website at

Amy Taylor: Today we've been speaking with Dr. Brandi Karisch, Beef Cattle Specialist. I'm Amy Taylor and this has been Farm and Family. Have a great day.

Announcer: Farm and Family is a production of the Mississippi State University Extension Service.

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