Plan for cattle handling during hot weatherWritten by Gayle Smith
Cattle can easily become stressed by heat and humidity during these hot July and August days. Producers need to plan ahead when they work cattle in these conditions.
According to Rob Eirich, Nebraska director of the Beef Quality Assurance program, cattle should be handled early in the mornings before 8 a.m. and not after 10 a.m.
“By 10 a.m., the outdoor temperatures are approaching higher risk levels of the day,” he noted. “Producers should plan for any work they need to do by understanding the temperature and humidity index for the day.”
“Remember that the core body temperature of cattle peaks about two hours after the environmental temperature, and it takes four to six hours for their temperature to dissipate back to near normal,” he added.
“Even if the environmental temperature decreases in the evening, the animal’s core temperature takes longer to return to normal, so handling cattle in the evening will not reduce the heat stress risk,” he explained.
If the outdoor temperature peaks at 2 p.m., Eirich said it would be 4 p.m. before the animal’s core temperature peaks and 10 p.m. before it returns to normal.
Because of the stress the heat index can cause an animal, Eirich said producers should avoid keeping cattle in a holding or processing area longer than 30 to 45 minutes.
“The stress they will have on top of the heat stress is not good for them,” he explained. “It is also important to avoid overcrowding the processing area.”
“Working the cattle increases their core temperature during normal conditions, so handle cattle slowly using low stress handling practices,” he recommended.
If the cattle need to be moved to a new pasture or a different area, Eirich encouraged producers to plan ahead.
“Shorter distances are less stressful on cattle, so move them early in the morning before the heat of the day,” he said.
In a feedlot, producers should plan strategic pen movements.
“Move the heavier cattle closer to the shipping area,” he recommended. “Planning is really an important part of decreasing the heat stress on cattle.”
When working cattle, Eirich said some shaded areas and airflow helps keep the temperature down. In pens or pasture, some sprinkler usage can also help.
Compromised animals really suffer when the heat stress index climbs.
“Hot temperatures and high humidity can really be tough on animals that are chronic, hospital, lame or poor performing,” he said.
The beef animal’s normal temperature is 105 degrees Fahrenheit. The body temperature of these animals may be even higher due to fever or less water and feed intake.
“Additional stress can be minimized in these cattle by providing shade and airflow and minimizing movement,” he said.
University of Nebraska Extension Veterinarian Dee Griffin said providing the cattle with plenty of water is key.
“Cattle need at least 20 gallon of water a day, and at least half that should be available to them in the afternoon,” Griffin noted.
“Consuming water is the quickest and most efficient method to reduce body temperature,” Griffin continued. “Water prevents dehydration and allows heat to be dissipated through evaporative cooling or sweating and urination.”
It is also important to keep the water clean and fresh to promote more consumption, he noted.