Can Your Livestock Beat the Heat?

— Written By and last updated by
Black cow in pasture

Livestock feel high temperatures too.

With temperatures climbing up to the 90s, it’s safe to say the first week of July has been our warmest so far this summer. When we begin experiencing hot weather and high humidity, livestock owners should think about heat stress in their animals and how to manage it. First and foremost, all animals should have access to clean, fresh water. This is essential to keep them hydrated and regulate their body temperature. In the summer heat, a mature cow can drink over 30 gallons of water in a day. That’s enough water to fill an average bathtub so make sure there’s enough to go around!

Another good practice to manage heat stress is to give livestock access to some form of shade. Providing shade during the hot summer months keeps the animals cool from the sun’s radiant heat. Although certain breeds of cattle and goats are tolerant to high temperatures, shade access is often viewed as a concern of animal welfare so it’s a good practice to provide it on your farm. A wooded area or tree line are natural sources of shade that can be taken advantage of if available. The only cost would be fencing in an area for your livestock to congregate. If you do not have trees as an option for shade, a simple loafing shelter or stall is relatively affordable to build. There are endless shelter designs that can be found online, just be sure it is large enough to house all of your animals. When a shelter is too small, some of your animals will be pushed out into the heat. One horse usually needs about 80-100 square feet of space while cows only need around 40.

For some livestock owners building a shelter is not feasible especially if they have multiple pastures without shade. In this particular case, the best solution would be to graze these pastures in the evening and early morning when temperatures are lower. Pastures without shade could also be grazed on overcast days when the sun’s radiation isn’t as strong.

It is important that livestock owners identify the early signs of heat stress in livestock before it gets too severe. The first sign of heat stress is increased breathing followed by open-mouth breathing (panting) and slobbering. As the heat stress becomes severe, animals will tremble and lose coordination. When the first signs of heat stress are observed, minimize the stress immediately with the tips above.

If you have any questions about livestock or pasture management please call the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Richmond County office at (910) 997-8255.