As we start to creep towards the cooler temps of fall, I thought I would share more about how we help our cows deal with hot weather.
A cow’s average temperature is 101.1, so her normal is already hotter than a human’s normal body temperature. Cows prefer cooler temperatures and when it gets really hot out, it can start to stress them. Heat stress can show up as lower milk production, difficulty getting pregnant and weight loss in cows. So just like we take extra precautions in cold weather to keep the girls comfortable, we have designed our barns to help them stay comfortable in the summer heat as well.
One of the quickest ways for us to tell if the cows are experiencing heat stress is by watching for dips in milk production. Years ago, in late summer it wouldn’t be uncommon at all to see our cows produce a lot less milk every day. But now with our barns and milking areas designed to keep the cows cool, we are actually seeing our highest milk production right now through the heat.
So what did we do to change this? We credit a few different things. While we love to see cows out on pasture, the reality is that when it comes to cow comfort in hot temperatures, we can keep the girls cooler in the barn versus out on grass. Our barns have been built with big fans that help move a lot of air. Being in the barn also means the cows are shaded from the sun. Our barns have curtains on the side that we can roll up or down that not only provide more shade, they also help us to direct the air flow through the barn. Between the curtains and fans moving air we have anywhere from a 7 to 11mph breeze going through our barn. That breeze helps keep our barns 5 to 10 degrees cooler than outside temps. That may not seem like much to humans, but to the cows it’s a great thing.
While our cows at the main farm are milked by robots, we also have a milking parlor at our other farm. The holding area where the cows wait to be milked can get warm fast. So we installed a sprinkler system to help keep the cows cool while they wait. While you may think about kids playing in a sprinkler on the lawn when I say that, it’s actually more scientific. Research has been done to really look at how to best cool cows with water. They’ve figured out that if the cows get so wet that the water soaks them, it doesn’t actually cool them down it just turns into a sauna. So our sprinkler system is carefully calibrated so that not only does it turn on and off in timed intervals, it also sprays out the perfect size water drops. Then we have fans that help to evaporate the water on the cows which is what provides the actual cooling for the girls.
While we can’t actually air-condition our barns, I like to think of the improvements we’ve made for keeping our cows cool as similar to sitting under a shade tree with a nice breeze and a good cold beer on a hot day. Our cow’s milk production and overall health tell us that they are comfortable and appreciate our work.