Heat stress hurts area dairy, beef cows - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Heat stress hurts area dairy, beef cows


The recent heat wave has killed hundreds of cows in Eastern Iowa and the tri-states area, but even farmers who haven't lost any cows may see a loss in production and reproduction.

Larry Tranel is an ISU Extension dairy field specialist, who said this is a rare heat event.

"In my 23-year career, it's probably the second worst, if not the worst," Tranel said, standing just feet away from a herd of his brother's dairy cows in Grant County, Wis.

Cows don't sweat like people do, so heat stress easily sets in.

"Heat stress for a dairy cow happens when it starts getting over 70 degrees, and we're sitting here in the 90s, close to 100, with heat indexes well over 100," Travel said, "so this is major heat stress on a cow."

It's stress that often leads to failed pregnancies and lower milk production.

Sometimes we lose six to eight, 10, 15 percent of the milk production as we have prolonged periods of heat stress," Tranel said.

Paul Vaassen raises beef cattle in Dubuque County. He hasn't lost any cows to the heat, but he knows what it's like to lose an animal.

"You feel a sense of loss because it's something you dedicate your life to, and you want to make sure they're all in good health and that they're comfortable and have access to water," He said. "Not only financially, but it's a loss emotionally, too."

With all the feed and care that goes into one cow, Vaassen said, "You have an investment, and when you lose that, that investment is gone."

Once a beef cow is dead, it can't be salvaged for meat.

"Those animals are under stress, and the meat is not good for eating, for human consumption," Vaassen said.

"Provide them with cool water and provide them with air circulation," Tranel said, adding the "need to get them under shade someplace."

He said the cows' temperatures can go up even more when they're under heat stress.

"Any time they're stressed, whether they're scared or heat stressed or whatever, their tendency is to bunch up," Tranel said, which makes cool air-flow between the tightly-packed bodies difficult.

As a field specialist for ISU, Tranel speaks with a lot of area farmers.

"Every farmer I've talked to has probably lost at least one cow," he said, "so I suspect if we take a look at the average dairy farmer that we have in each individual county, if, on average, each one had lost a cow, I suspect that's probably about where we're at."

Dairy and beef cows can run generally from $1,200 to $1,600 a head, so a loss of 10 cows means a loss of at least $12,000, which isn't even counting the investment of time, feed and care.

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