New Zealand Cows Like Shade Better Than Showers

NEW ZEALAND - Summer sun has long been known to affect the health of cows and farm productivity. The issue for farmers is what is the most successful way to combat it?
calendar icon 25 March 2011
clock icon 2 minute read

AgResearch animal behaviour and welfare scientist Dr Karin Schütz and colleagues set out to determine the effectiveness of shading and sprinklers, the most commonly used ways to address heat and also measure cow preferences.

Funded by DairyNZ and the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology the project looked at Holstein-Friesian dairy cows during average air temperatures of 22.3 degrees celcius. The research showed that while sprinklers were more effective at keeping the animals cool, and keeping away insects, the cows preferred shade.

“The cows showed no preference for sprinklers over standing in the sun but their preference for shade increased with higher air temperatures, increased solar radiation, and higher winds,” said Dr Schütz. “We tested all the cows over three days and were surprised the cows wanted shade no matter how much cooler the sprinklers made them”. The results are interesting since Dr Schütz’s collaborative research with the University of California has shown that non-lactating cows used a specially designed cow shower on average, three hours per day. “We think that the previous experience and degree of control over the water can have something to do with the choice to use water,” said Dr Schütz.

Dr Adele Arnold, Animal Welfare Developer at DairyNZ, says the results are useful in demonstrating the preference cows have for shade over sprinklers; even if that option does not provide faster relief from the symptoms of heat stress.

“In the end when cows have done their afternoon walk to the dairy shed, which is the really critical window for onset of heat stress symptoms, spraying with water is still the most effective means to achieve a rapid drop in body temperature for an animal in a critical state, but it isn’t always practical for all farmers.

“Farmers are also using other preventative options like grazing cows close to the dairy shed on hot afternoons so they don’t have to walk as far to be milked; milking later in the evening when it’s cooler, and ensuring a good supply of clean drinking water for cows during the day.”

Dr Schütz thinks there is a lot more to learn; “we would like to do more work on preferences for design features of water cooling, such as droplet size and impact, the role of previous experience and control over delivery.”

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