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Heat stresses cows and equipment

From the Farm

July 22, 2011
By Kerry Hoffman , The Journal

A friend of mine contacted me on facebook Monday morning. She asked how our cows were handling the heat. She's just a youngster and milks cows with her father. When she asks me questions, I try to give her the best answers I know. If I don't have the solution, I will find it.

Allie, who loves cows way more than I do, lost one of her favorite animals, Honey, due to the nasty, hot, unbearable weather.

Just imagine being a 1,500-pound animal with no effective way to cool down. You won't be able to sweat. The family pool is a no-no and running through the sprinkler is specifically banned because your hooves leave holes in the ground that your youngest could fall into.

Article Photos

Kerry Hoffman

When cows get hot they stand one place, with their tongues hanging out like a tired dog, and pant to the best of their ability. Did you know cows can drool a ton?

Cows were not made to cool themselves that way.

The blistering weather has been an awesome burden on the cows. During a normal heat event, the evenings cool down and give the cows a needed break. This stretch isn't offering that up for our cows.

In our large barn, we installed a sprinkler system. It turns on and off automatically according to the temperature of the air. It's a killer when a person is walking in front of it and unsuspectingly gets a blast of cool water from the sprinkler.

Our cows are fighting for a spot underneath the soaking nozzles.

Monday evening, after sweating my behind off during a VFW Legion Gold ball game in Sleepy Eye, Steve and I ventured out to observe our second group of milking cows that don't have the luxury of a sprinkler system.

They were miserable! If only it was cost effective to put air conditioning in our barns.

Steve wanted to move some close-up heifers into our calving barn so we could keep a close eye on them. I figured the cows would be better off outside where there was a bit of a breeze. Steve obliged and left them out on the pasture.

The heat also takes a toll on our cows' appetites. Who in the world would want to live outside and also have breakfast, lunch and dinner in the environmental oven?

According to Steve's number crunching, each of our cows has dropped in milk production by 20 pounds; because of the heat. That also means that as a whole, the bulk tank contains 30 percent less milk than average.

It's quite obvious the cows are not producing milk when they enter milking parlor. Their udders look half full. Instead of a nice plump udder, we see udders starting to look like prunes.

I had to milk Tuesday evening with Joey and Mike, and it wasn't pretty. One of us moved the cows into the parlor and then took a water hose and sprayed every cow across the back. I kept reminding the boys that we need to get the cows in and out of the parlor as fast as possible.

The problem was that once we sprayed the cows with water, they really enjoyed standing in front of the huge fans. It was nearly impossible to keep the cows moving out of the parlor.

Heck some even returned to the parlor to hog the air movement.

Joey, who cares for the cows more than he cares to admit, brought in a large water barrel and placed it near the entrance to the parlor. He was kind of bummed that the cows didn't drink from it at first, but I assured him that once they realized it was water, we wouldn't be able to keep it full.

Eventually they did realize it was water and by the end of milking, the barrel was almost empty.

Of course, the heat also pushed our milk-cooling equipment to the brink of death as well. Tuesday evening, Steve walked past the milk house and thought it "sounded" funny, so started the investigative work. It sounded odd because there was no noise coming from the compressor. The compressor had at some time sprung a leak not a drop of coolant remained in the system. Thankfully it had cooled enough that it would stay be OK through the evening and the following morning the repair guy had it fixed in no time.

We will continue to work our way through the heat. Repairing equipment and giving our utmost attention to the cows and pampering them like they have never been pampered should bring us through this heat.

I know I can't wait for it to subside and I am pretty sure the cows can't either.

For questions, or comments, e-mail me at



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