Monday, August 8, 2011

Heat Wave 2011: Staying Alive.

Sprinklers, critical to keeping our cows cool, but in our record heat, also alive.
Over a month since I have blogged, but I have a perfectly good excuse for it: we were working to keep our cows alive. Minnesota experienced much like the rest of the nation, record breaking heat and humidity. It was that darn humidity that was our biggest challenge in July. Cows are not built for warm climates, but thanks to technology and advances in animal husbandry, we are able to make them comfortable. Cows like 65˚ and so do I. Instead of our usual summer weather we endured an endless series of weeks with temperatures above 85˚ and dew points above 70˚. At times our heat indices reached almost 120˚! It was these extremes that put our cows in danger.

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.


  1. Hey there,
    So sorry to hear that you are having it so rough. Thank the Lord the goats haven't shown any sign of trouble yet. And I'm thankful our calf isn't here. She was always terrible with heat. I guess cows have a harder time than goats.

    Praying that you will all be blessed.
    Sincerely, Carra

  2. Thank Jesus things have cooled down for y'all and y'all's cows! We've been havng 100% humidity and 110* temperatures down here in the south. It has been a HOT year for everyone!
    Jesus be with you all!
    Enjoyed the post!

  3. April & Carra: OUCH! That's hot too~! If I am correct, goats are definitely more temp tolerant. 50's are in the forecast for the overnight, and our cows are resting more peacefully! It's a blessing from God! Thank you for your thoughts and prayers!


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