Keeping cows cool as Wisconsin swelters in latest heat wave

STODDARD, Wis. (WKBT) — If you don’t see any cows outside, don’t be too surprised. They are all indoors trying to stay cool because this heat can be dangerous for them.

Some people look forward to a hot summer day.

“You would consider this a nice day,” said Sabrina Servais, at Hamburg Hill Farms. “If you took a picture, people would say it’s a nice day out,.”

For farmers like Servais, a hot summer day means getting the water and fans going.

“We’ll be sitting at the dinner table at night, talking about what’s going on and one of us will be like it’s 90 degrees tomorrow. What’s the plan for that?” she said.

While humans can handle temperatures upwards of 70 degrees, such temps can be dangerous for cows. Last week,  2,000 cattle died during a heat wave in Kansas.

“Cows go into heat stress over 70 degrees,” she said.

Cows have four compartments to their stomach. The largest is called the rumen.

“There’s no oxygen in there. So, when they eat their feed, that all sits there and ferments. And fermentation creates a lot of heat,” Servais said.

As a result, the body temperature of a cow can be anywhere from 102 to 105 degrees.

“So in temperatures like this, the heat stress is going to cause them to produce less milk,” she said.

On an organic dairy farm, cows can produce around 65 pounds of milk.

“With the heat stress, it can cause them to go down 30 to 40 percent,” Servais said.

But there are ways to help cattle cool down.

“We have 12 pusher fans up here, another four in the barn and we have five in the milking parlor,” she said.

Tunnel fan systems allow fresh air to come in from one side of the barn. Fans on the opposite end suck in the air, creating a cooling effect.

“Oh heck yeah, this is such a huge investment. Putting in the time and effort to make sure your cows are comfortable pays off in the long run, immensely,” she said.

It can be expensive.

“About $2,000 apiece for these fans and another 3,000 to run them per month,” Servais said.

Servais says their animals are like family, and family takes care of one another.

Calves can handle the heat slightly better because they’re not fully developed yet. Farmers will normally let out their cows at night to graze when it gets cooler —but recently, those cows will be staying indoors.

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