Management Strategies Can Help Reduce Heat Stress Potential

July 26, 2021

With forecasters predicting above-normal temperatures and little wind for the next several days, ranchers and feeders should take precautions to protect livestock from heat stress, a challenge that costs the U.S. cattle industry up to $370 million in losses each year. These weather events are unavoidable, but management strategies can help reduce the impact. 

According to Kansas State University extension veterinarian A.J. Tarpoff, the best management practices for helping to reduce heat stress are handling cattle only during the coolest parts of the day, preferably before 10:00 a.m.; modifying feeding times; splitting cattle between pens or reducing stocking rate; maximizing airflow by removing obstructions around facilities; installing shade structures and/or sprinklers, if possible; and providing plenty of cool, clean water. He said cattle should be fed 70% of their ration as late in the evening as possible, which puts the peak heat of digestion overnight when temperatures likely are cooler.   

“If we feed animals within the wrong period of time, we can actually increase their heat load because the heat of digestion and the heat from the environment are building on top of each other,” Tarpoff said.  

Monitoring air temperature, humidity, wind speed and cloud cover is an important part of managing livestock heat stress. Overnight lows higher than 74 degrees do not allow cattle to adequately cool, requiring heightened observation and possibly intervention the following day. Livestock heat stress forecast maps are produced daily through the partnership of the U.S. Meat Animal Research Center and the National Weather Service. These maps can be accessed by clicking here.