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How Do You Know If Your Livestock Are Too Hot?

It’s hot out there, and in some places it’s really humid too! If you’re feeling it, so are your livestock. To help you figure out if there’s a problem and to do what you can to protect them, here are some tips from Rob Eirich, Nebraska Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator, and Mariah Woolsoncroft, Nebraska Extension Beef Educator. While their focus is cattle, these same principles can apply to you and all the animals you work with.

First, let’s get a handle on the potential for heat stress by taking a look at the Cattle Temperature Humidity Index Chart. What it shows us the relationship between humidity and temperature. As the humidity goes up, so does the stress on animals.

You can check for stress by how much an animal is panting. The panting score gives you an indication of the animal’s body temperature. Here’s how you can score your animal’s panting to determine it’s level of stress:

Working in the Heat

When your animals are in stress, don’t add to it by moving them or working them. Eirich and Woolsoncroft recommend working cattle before 8:00 a.m. and NEVER after 10 a.m. during summer months. Why? An animal’s core temperature peaks about two hours after the outdoor temperature peaks and takes 4 to 6 hours to decrease back to normal. That means that even in the evening, your cows are too hot to handle.

If you’ll be processing animals, work smaller groups so that cattle are never standing in a holding area for more than 30 minutes. Processing animals in any temperature increases their core temperature, so when it’s hot it’s especially important to work slowly, use your low-stress handling techniques, and make sure that animals only have to move short distances.

Pay extra attention to animals that are already doing poorly. An animal that is sick or injured is already running a higher core temperature so it is at greater risk of heat stress

Take Care Out There!

In the end, all of us want the same thing on a hot day – to sit in the shade with a cool drink. I know you’ve got lots of work to do, but the heat can be dangerous. So take care of yourselves and your stock.


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Kathy Voth
Kathy Voth
I am the founder, editor and publisher of On Pasture, now retired. My career spanned 40 years of finding creative solutions to problems, and sharing ideas with people that encouraged them to work together and try new things. From figuring out how to teach livestock to eat weeds, to teaching range management to high schoolers, outdoor ed graduation camping trips with fifty 6th graders at a time, building firebreaks with a 130-goat herd, developing the signs and interpretation for the Storm King Fourteen Memorial trail, receiving the Conservation Service Award for my work building the 150-mile mountain bike trail from Grand Junction, Colorado to Moab, Utah...well, the list is long so I'll stop with, I've had a great time and I'm very grateful.

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