Water, shade and power become precious commodities for cattle producers during Arkansas' triple-digit summers, said Don Hubbell, a cattleman and director of the Livestock and Forestry Center in Batesville, Ark.
“If it's 101 in Little Rock, it's easily a few degrees hotter here,” he said by phone from his home in the Independence County community of Bethesda.
Hubbell's operation includes approximately 675 head of crossbred commercial cattle. Like all other animals, cattle feel hot and thirsty as the temperature rises.
“During hot weather, water consumption can increase up to double,” he said. “A mature cow typically drinks 1 gallon of water per 100 pounds of body weight. As hot as the temperature is now, consumption can easily double.”
And like humans, cattle seek the shade where they can find it. “They need shade, especially between 1 p.m. and 6 p.m., the hottest part of the day,” he said.
Hubbell recommends that producers try to reduce stress on cattle and themselves by working early in the day or after 6 p.m. “If you're working or processing cattle, it's best to do it early, or late in the evening is probably better,” he said. “You can work on them and it will continue to cool them down. Otherwise, you have heat stress on top of flight stress. When you process them, it stirs them up and that creates more stress.”
Hubbell said growers needed to keep an eye on wells and ponds to ensure adequate water levels. “If the power goes out, or the well goes down, you need a backup plan. After about 12 hours, your cattle can start getting into trouble.”
Tom Harrington, a natural resources coordinator with the Arkansas Extension Service, said there are water-related hazards in the heat. “Animals that don't have shade may spend more and more time in ponds and other standing water sources,” he says. “That can be hazardous to the animals' health by prolonging exposure to bacteria in the water.
“If these standing water sources are also the animals' drinking source, it may become contaminated by animal waste.”
Even if the water is not contaminated, cattle may become reluctant to drink the water because it is warmer, and may have a bad odor or taste, he says.
When watering animals in a tank or trough it is important to keep the water clean. Cleaning the tank will help prevent animals from wasting water when drinking. If watering with a hose, be sure that the tank is level and use a properly working float to keep the water from running over. Water spilling out of a tank can account for 5 gallons a minute when the water is supplied by a hose.
If animals are kept under a sprinkler system remember that sprinklers work best when they are used with a fan. The water should also be on a timer with water being sprayed 1 to 3 minutes out of a 15-minute cycle. The goal of the water is to help with evaporative cooling. When a fan is used, check the electrical connections to make sure they are properly secured and will not shock the animals. Fans should be cleaned periodically to insure they are workings as efficiently as possible.