|Sprinklers, critical to keeping our cows cool, but in our record heat, also alive.|
Our milking cows spend summers indoors, in the shade, under sprinklers, in fans, with plenty of cool water and fresh feed. Our dry cows and heifers spend summers out in our yards, with some shade, natural breezes and lots of cool water and fresh feed. Our calves have huts, which are placed in the shade of our groves, and receive extra cool water each day. During this extreme weather we worked daily to cool cows. First, we added additional fans to critical areas of the milking barn. We spent time each day hosing down our dry cows and heifers. Our calves had multiple feedings of cool water each day. We monitored our fresh cows (20 cows had calves during July) even more closely than before, checking their vitals not just once each day, but twice. These efforts helped to keep our cows well, but we did lose the fight with 2 cows and 3 calves, and we may see further challenges in the months ahead.
Heat is the most dangerous for the most vulnerable of our herd: fresh cows, sick cows, and calves. It was these 3 groups that received the most additional attention. 1 cow we lost was sick and the other was not only sick, but had also just calved. There was literally nothing we could have done for them, and that was the hardest thing to accept. Both cows spent most of the day parked under the sprinklers, staying as cool as possible, but the heat was too much and stressed them out too far. The 3 calves also had the same fate, sick and too hot. It was not only frustrating but emotionally exhausting to handle. There were days when both Jon and I worked ourselves so hard in the heat that we were both physically ill. Heat sickness is serious, and it is very painful. While our milking herd only lost 12% of their milk production due to the heat, the next few weeks could provide more problems. Heat stress of this magnitude can cause laminitis (cows with sore feet due to infection or sores), prevent pregnancy (bad ovulations) and possibly induce miscarriages.
As of right now, thanks to the cooler and less humid temperatures, the cows have rebounded in milk production. So far, feet on our cows look good and we seem to have cows in good reproductive health. We are praying that the heat wave of 2011 doesn’t have lasting effects into the fall. Excellent care of our cows helps to minimize the impacts of stress on their lives….hopefully we did a good job.