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Posted: 05/23/2023

Signs and Solutions for Heat Stress in Cattle

Are you worried about the heat eating your profits this summer? Heat stress can take both energy and earnings out of a cattle operation as it can lead to reduced conception rates, milk production, food intake, and more. Here we look at the signs, symptoms and solutions for heat stress so your herd can stay stress-free during these record-breaking temperatures.

Beef cattle gathering under tree to find shade from the hot sun

Signs of Heat Stress

Cattle experience heat stress when both high temperatures and high humidity rates prevent their bodies from sufficiently cooling. But these highs aren’t as high as you might think. Mild heat stress actually starts around 72°F with 50% humidity. That temp drops to 65°F for high-producing animals that intake more feed and naturally generate more of their own heat.

What are the symptoms of heat stress?
  • Increased breathing/panting
  • Sweating
  • Drooling or foaming
  • Restlessness
  • Searching for shade
If you notice your cattle breathing/panting at increased rates, you can categorize the severity of the heat stress by counting those breaths. At 75-85 breaths per minute, the cow shows mild to moderate heat stress. When cows reach 100 or more breaths per minute, they are in severe heat stress.

How Heat Affects Animals

When animals are affected by heat stress, they lose water and nutrients needed for regular functioning. In fact, U.S. dairy cow seasonal conception rates drop between 10-20% (with greater drops in Florida, Arizona and similar climates). Late-gestation cows carry for shorter periods of time and their calves weigh less at birth. Heifer calves born to a heat-stressed cow produce less milk in their first 30 lactation weeks. Producers with beef cattle may notice heat stress implications around the breeding season, too. The heat can impact semen quality and ultimately lower the conception rates 30 days post stress. You may also see death of a fetus in the weeks following conception. In other words, heat stress can affect cattle of all breeds and ages, and it also affects your bottom line.

Preventing Heat Stress

When you know the heat is on its way, take steps to prevent the stress it causes for cattle. Consider:

  • Providing lots of shade and extra, clean drinking water.
  • Ventilating indoor spaces with fans to increase airflow and help with cooling.
  • Fighting flies with multiple control methods.
  • A rotation of feeding times to give animals extra space.
  • Handling animals in the early, cooler hours if necessary.
It can also be helpful to avoid grazing in shaded pastures on normal-temperature days. Then when the heavy heat hits, the pasture is full and ready for animals to enjoy without putting themselves in danger.

Electrolytes Help Beat Heat Stress

Administering electrolytes can also help prevent a full stress event if the animal shows symptoms. Check out a few popular electrolyte products to see what makes sense for your animals.

Keep Cool with PBS Animal Health

Beat the heat and skip the stress. PBS Animal Health carries everything you need to make the best decisions for your herd – whether you’re trying to protect them from the sun, from flies, or from pinkeye. Plus, we offer a low price guarantee, which means when you find the exact same product advertised in public at a lower price, let us know!

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