Farmers: It’s hot for the cows, too

ADDISON COUNTY — The record-breaking heat wave that hung over Vermont last week may have mostly broken, but local farmers say its effects could be felt for weeks more.
Pete James, the farm manager at Monument Farms in Weybridge, said his cows are reacting just like any hot human being would.
“They’re just like we are,” he said. “When it’s hot you don’t want to do anything, you’re not overly energetic, you don’t feel like eating. In their case, when they don’t eat, they don’t produce — they want to stand in front of the fans and milk production drops.”
Over the past week or so, James said Monument Farms’ milk production has dropped by 10 to 20 percent. For a farm that processes and distributes its own product, such a decline can pose serious problems, especially since cows can be slow to recover.
“They might not come back into full production for a month or couple months,” James said. He added that there isn’t any foolproof way of mitigating the heat’s effects — just a number of small fixes.
“You adjust their feed ration a little bit — maybe they don’t have to eat as much to get the same energy requirements. You make sure that all your fans are operating, and you try not to group them up in large groups to make them any hotter than they need to be. That’s about all you can do.”
If big farms rely heavily on barns and cooling fans, smaller operations aren’t so lucky. John Hammond of the Doolittle Farm in Shoreham noted that animals kept outdoors have an even harder time staying cool.
“They suffer,” said John Hammond, a co-owner of the Doolittle Farm. “You have no choice, it’s what it is.”
For his two dozen cows, the only solution is finding shade.
“As long as they can get out of the sun, it’s OK,” he said.
“They pant a lot and the flies are terrible, they’re just all over them,” he said. “But they’re Dexter cows and they take care of themselves really well — they’re tough animals.” His 500 or so chickens, too, are capable of finding their own shady spots, he said.
Cheryl Cesario, a grazing specialist at the UVM Extension Office in Middlebury, said she’s been fielding plenty of calls from farmers employing various strategies to keep their animals healthy amid the heat and humidity.
“Animals on pasture, it’s pretty critical to find shade for them,” she said. “Farmers might have shady paddocks that they have reserved for weeks like this, or they try to fence animals near hedge rows so they have shade during the day. Another part of it is just making sure they have plenty of good clean water available.”
“Obviously it is a stress, but you have to manage that stress to minimize loss,” Cesario said.
As temperatures finally fall below the 90s, it seems that a stressful time for both farmers and their animals may be coming to a merciful end.

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