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Views from the vet: Cows need access to shade, water

We’ve all enjoyed a very nice stretch of weather, particularly special after our long, cold winter. On the farm, the days are spent cutting, drying and baling hay, chopping and piling grass haylage and
monitoring cornfields. While farmers are busy in the fields, farm animals are basking in the summer sun with the rest of us.
Although most of us are enjoying the long days of midsummer, July’s heat can create special problems for livestock on pasture if precautions are not taken. Summer is much more than opening the pasture gate and allowing your animals out to graze. Pastures must have water readily available and within easy walking distance for animals to access. Shade must be available for the hottest part of the day. As the summer progresses and grasses begin to slow their growth and dry out, farmers and shepherds may need to provide supplemental feed.
Sheep are very susceptible to heat and humidity, particularly if they have not been shorn. Thick wool coats can collect moisture and become infected, attracting flies and creating a painful skin condition. Monitor your sheep closely in the heat; provide them with shade, a dry place to rest and plenty of water to drink. As pastures dry in the summer heat and sheep begin to concentrate their grazing in wet or shady areas, they may also have greater access to parasites, which may quickly become deadly. Ask your veterinarian about an effective parasite control program.
Goats are desert animals and are more heat tolerant. Although they generally are browsers rather than grazers and like to eat twigs and leaves, they are also very sensitive to stomach parasites in the summer. For both sheep and goats, supplemental feed should be offered in elevated racks or bunks rather than on the ground, further reducing exposure to parasites.
Beef cattle on pasture should have shade and plenty of water available. Watch their body weight closely if they are nursing calves; if cows are losing weight rapidly in the summer heat they may require supplemental grain.
Adult beef cows are somewhat resistant to parasites but if they lose weight despite adequate pasture and supplemental grain parasites may be a problem. Consult your veterinarian if you have questions about management of your beef herd.
Dairy cattle are much more sensitive to heat than other livestock breeds. The large amount of forage required to make milk generates a tremendous amount of heat when it is digested. Dairy cows on pasture require a lot of water within easy walking distance. Dairy farmers that depend on pasture for milk production have a complex plan for pasture rotation, ensuring heavy growth of fresh grass each day. Grass dairy farmers know that cows prefer grass of a certain length and plan mowing and grazing to make sure cows have access to the best grass in the right stage of growth. Often in these rotational grazing systems shade may not be available. Most cows can tolerate full sun for the day if they have been adequately acclimated (so long as plenty of water is at hand) and grazing herds may be seen calmly chewing their cuds in the bright sunshine. On the hottest days, farmers often keep cows indoors where they can relax in the shade.
Nothing says Vermont like animals grazing bright green pastures in the summer. Make sure they remain healthy and happy in the summer sun.

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