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Dairy Farmers Find Ways To Help Cows “Chill” During Summer Heat


While a heatwave continues to blaze across New York conjuring up thoughts of fans, sprinklers, shades and sand, most people may not realize these are the same tools employed by dairy farmers to keep their cows cool and comfortable during the warmer months.

North Harbor Dairy at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sacketts Harbor, N.Y., uses large propeller ceiling fans to maintain an 8-9 mph breeze throughout the barn.
North Harbor Dairy at Old McDonald’s Farm in Sacketts Harbor, N.Y., uses large propeller ceiling fans to maintain an 8-9 mph breeze throughout the barn.

Many farmers use large propeller ceiling fans in barns to help move warm air away from the cows while circulating in fresh air. On Reyncrest Farm in Corfu, N.Y., they have over 250 fans to help keep their cows chill. “The fans automatically turn on when the thermometer hits 65 degrees,” says owner Kelly Reynolds. “Our fans are spread throughout our barns and milking parlor. We have about one fan for every six cows.”

Some farms have sprinkler systems that are automatically activated when the barn gets warm. Like lawn sprinklers only elevated, a series of pipes run the length of the barn above the cows. Sprinkler heads disperse water in a 360-degree radius to provide an even spread of water across the pen. Once the cow’s skin is soaked, sprinklers are turned off to allow for evaporation, which is actually the process that removes heat from the cow.

Other farms use misters to cool cows. While sprinklers and misters both use water, misters actually cool the air surrounding the cows. The cows never get wet, instead, the fog that is produced by the misters evaporates before it reaches the cows and cools the air. The misters produce about a 10-degree drop in temperature in the barn.

Another simple, yet automated feature of many barns that not only keeps cows cool in the summer, but also warm in the winter, are the shades that make up the exterior walls. Shades are controlled by a thermostat to open and shut depending on the temperature. In the past, barns were designed so that exterior walls could be removed during the summer months. Shades are like curtains — they can be opened and shut easily as the climate changes.

This year, Reyncrest Farm installed shades in some areas of the barn. “The activity monitors worn by each cow track panting, which is one way cows abate heat, so the more panting, the hotter the cow is. This really helped us pinpoint a few areas in the pen that were getting hotter at certain times of the day. I think it’s pretty cool that we can respond to what the cow’s activity is telling us.  We installed shades in those areas and have seen a big improvement based on the amount of time they spend resting comfortably,” says Reynolds.

While you might dream of laying on a beach for relaxation this summer, some cows get to do that every day. On average, a cow spends about 14 hours a day just resting, so a comfortable bed is important. Cows are very large and sand beds provide traction and support, allowing them to get up and down with ease. Because sand is so forgiving, it disperses the cow’s weight over a wide area, providing comfort and promoting longer resting times. Sand is also an ideal bedding for cows because it stays cool inside the barn.

Cow care is a priority for dairy farmers all year round as it directly affects milk quality and cow health.  According to Reynolds, many of the decisions made on the farm are a direct result of how the cows are acting. “Monitoring the activity trackers worn by our cows and watching how much they are laying down, eating or their general demeanor helps us to decide where we might need to make an improvement in the barn or change a routine,” says Reynolds. “It’s all about keeping our cows cool and comfortable.”

SOURCE American Dairy Association North East


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