When Cows Get Hot and Bothered

Last week was a scorcher. The pavement sizzled, the sun blazed, and the air lay thick, heavy, and suffocating. I had to resist the urge to melodramatically bellow “I’m meeeeelting! I’m meeeeeeeelting!” each time I stepped out the door. Well, I resisted the urge to do it more than that first time.

Thursday and Friday were the worst of it. Highs of over 100 degrees and smothering humidity? Far too hot for this Michigan gal.

Much to the Dairy Man’s chagrin, this week hasn’t been much better. 80 degrees felt like a cold snap and the 90s will be back today. The corn is dry and the dog days of summer are upon us.

Everyone around the farm has their own method of coping with the heat.

Jersey the dog hangs out in the air-conditioned house or truck.

The corn gets irrigated.

The cows drink a lot of water and do a lot of lounging.

It’s vitally important to keep our herd cool. Cows do not like the heat. They’re most comfortable when the temperature is around 50 degrees. When the thermometer tips above 55/60 degrees, the ladies start getting hot and bothered. The more scientific term for this hot flash phenom is “heat stress.” When dairy cows experience heat stress, they begin to reduce feed intake and lose body weight. Milk production, reproductive performance, and health are also affected.

We contemplated fanning the bovine ladies with palm fronds and feeding them cold grapes. But that seemed too extravagant. And Grecian. Plus, cows much prefer bananas.

So when the hot, airless days roll in, we kick on the fans.

These huge fans keep air moving in the barns and make the cows feel like they’re in an airport hanger. It’s glamorous. But once temps climb up past 75, the fans aren’t enough. At that point, it’s time to get wet and wild. Well, as wild as a cow lounging in the sand and chewing her cud can be.

The dairy cow version of Girls Gone Wild involves sprinklers. Our sprinkler system travels the length of each barn (on both sides) and runs on a timer based on the temperature. The hotter it gets outside, the more frequently the system kicks on. The spray wets the cow to the hide and then turns off, allowing the moisture to evaporate and pull heat from her body like sweating.

During the hottest summer days, the barn sprinkler system kicks on every seven minutes.

There are also sprinklers in the holding pen where the ladies wait to enter the milking parlor. All of these nozzles are sure to get a workout this weekend as Michigan temps again tip into the 90s.

You know the old saying: “If the cows ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Or something like that. I was never very good with old sayings. I’m still grasping the whole bird in the bush concept. But really, if our cows aren’t happy and comfortable, we can’t be either. The Dairy Man invests enormous amounts of time and energy keeping the herd cool this time of year.

There’s talk of a slip n’ slide, but we’re still shopping for a plastic that can withstand a wet, sliding, 1500-pound cow.

16 thoughts on “When Cows Get Hot and Bothered

  1. Looks like you’re having an Australian summer in the Mid West this year. Our cows huddle under trees on hot days, but they’re more used to hot weather. A 50F day is winter here. love the idea of a slip n slide…..

  2. The ladies at our dairy farm in Hudson, Iowa, are dealing with the same heat and similar methods of cooling. What a creative blog post! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Great blog. We are a dairy farming couple ourselves in Wales in the uk, milking 500 cows but think. Have it a bit easier than your fella, only milk once a day and they just graze all day, we don’t feed them anything else. Are your cows all holsteins, because I thought I sAw a few red and white cows too. Keep up the good work! P.s does your border collie help with the cows yet?

    1. Thanks, Tom! We have Holsteins and cross-breeds: Swedish Reds, Montbéliardes, and Jerseys.

      Jersey the border collie loves to chase all types of cows, though I’m not sure it’s organized enough to be called “herding.” 🙂

  4. I have learned so much from you. Imagine, I grew up on a farm, during depression days. No fans, no sprinklers, but plenty of trees in the pasture.
    Thanks Jess.

  5. Would the plastic from a grain bag work for a slip and slide? I think those are pretty durable. My hubby was going to rig one up for the kids (but they aren’t 1500lbs…)

  6. Here on our Kansas dairy, our cows go from needing winter coats to sprinklers in a matter of days! Spring can’t make up it’s mind…will it let winter hang on, or will it give way to summer? After reading about your heat, I am thankful, today, for our cold spell (again)! Sounds like August and September here. BTW: I think cow sized margarita’s would go well with the sand and surf theme….

    1. Amy, I feel your pain! It was snowing in Michigan a week ago and it was almost 80 degrees today. Those poor cows. I wish we could just have spring (vs. winter OR summer). 🙂 Cow-sized margaritas, eh? This sounds like a good idea.

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