By Kayla Hall –
The heat wave is taking its toll on dairy production in Erath County. Dairy farmers are struggling with unproductive cows, evaporative cooling systems and breeding rotations to get their cows through the drought.
“Cows will loose anywhere from 10 to 25 percent production in the summer,” says Todd Bilby, an associate professor and dairy specialist at the Texas AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Stephenville. The reason for this is loss is the heat. The hotter it is, the less cows eat. The less they eat, the less the produce.
Bilby studies how the heat affects fertility rates in cows as well. The cows are harder to breed in the hot summer months. When the cows don’t calve, they also don’t produce milk.
There are many different strategies to keeping cows cool. Whit Weems, an Erath County Extension agent. says evaporative cooling “is the most effective way of cooling cows.”
Evaporative cooling uses soakers to drench cows with water. When the cows walk under fans the water evaporates and cools the animal down.
“It is just like when you get out of the pool, when the wind blows, it cools you down,” Weems explains,
Erath County dairyman Don Keith says he uses a freestyle loafing barn to keep his cattle cool. The barn allows the cows to eat and bed down under the shade.
“We turn on fans at about 7 a.m.. and then turn them off at 9:30 p.m.. to help circulate air and keep them cool” The key to a cool cow is good water, shade and air.”
“Cow comfort goes way beyond just the summer months,” Weems says. Cows are rotated out of the barn and receive a two-month vacation before they calve and come back into the milking barn. June and July have already brought on some tremendous heat for these cows and with August just around the corner, dairy cattle will continue to struggle.
Some farmers are cross breeding their herds with animals that have greater heat tolerance, “Cross breeding is more popular due to the cattle that can adapt faster,” said Bilby.
The smaller Jersey cow crossbred with the Holstein may not produce as much but she will adapt to the heat easier. Although, crossbreeding is not a choice that all dairymen use, Bilby says many are testing these waters.
There’s a shimmer of good news in the heat and drought. Weems says that the extra steps dairy farmers are taking to create cow comfort are expensive, but he doesn’t’t expect increased costs to increase prices at the grocery story.