As a professional hoof trimmer, I have experienced days so hot that you wished you could dive into the swimming pool. A lot has been written about heat stress in dairy cows and I certainly do not have all of the ultimate answers. However, what I do know for certain is that the cow (and the hoof trimmer) prefers a cooler environment, rather than a stuffy, stale, and hot environment.
Let us reflect on the past summer to prepare for the next one.
The best way to get a feeling for the impact that the heat has on your herd is to monitor the animals’ behaviour. A cow will search for the most comfortable place in her environment when temperatures are rising. It’s just like the hoof trimmer: in the morning, we are well dressed, and then first the shirt comes off, than perhaps a roof is put on the chute to create shade, often a large water jug appears beside the chute, and don’t forget the quick dive in the creek during the lunch break. We are just trying to make our day more comfortable, to optimize our performance. Let us now go back to the cow: she has a totally different way of dealing with this stress because she ‘perspires’ differently. She has no
shirt to remove or the option to go down to the creek. What about her ‘water jug’? She is totally at the mercy of the owner, but will try to make the best of it with the means she has available, to optimize her performance and survival.
How does heat stress affect the hoof of the cow? Most often, the animal stands more when conditions are hot, as this lets her get a breeze and some cooling. However, her four hooves are not made to stand on hard surfaces for extended periods of time. She already is dealing with waiting times before milking, eating times, etc., and the hot weather might just tip the scale to lameness problems.
What is to be done to help the cow to cope with this heat challenge? I’ve got some pointers that will help you to get and stay on track.
- Ensure that good and clean water is available. I’ve seen a long gutter or extra tubs being placed among the animals in the summer months to avoid waiting times when they need their drink.
- If your herd is in dry lots, make sure that there is a shady area to keep the direct sun rays away from your animals.
- Use adequate misters or sprinklers to bring the area air temperature down.
- Use fans to create air movement and to help the cow to cope better with the situation and feel more comfortable.
- Use proper fly control; it does not help the cow if she has to battle both the heat and insects.
- Watch standing times: a cow will stand in drafty areas to optimize (cold) air flow around her whole body and get proper cooling.
- Have a proper trimming procedure in place. Make sure that the hooves are in optimum condition before the heat spell hits. By doing that, you’re eliminating and/or preventing other hoof problems from occurring. The animal has enough stress in dealing with the heat: avoid any other stress wherever possible.
- Avoid having low spots in your dirt lots: the cow knows where they are and uses them for cooling. The disadvantage of this type of cooling method is that these areas are often muddy and not easy to manage: the chance of developing mastitis is very great. In addition, Digital Dermatitis (warts) is easily spread in these muddy and wet conditions. Create other cooling alternatives.
This article and list is not a complete overview on this subject and heat effects will differ widely in some geographic areas and environments (facilities). Keep your eyes open around your own herds and ask for professional opinions and advice from your veterinarian and/or hoof trimmer. I would also like to pass on a few links to professionals in cooling management in dairy cows; therefore visit our blog on www.allabouthooves.com.
All the best in keeping your animals cool!