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.