Heat stress in cows at pasture and benefit of shade in a temperate climate region
Under temperate climates, cattle are often at pasture in summer and are not necessarily provided with shade. We aimed at evaluating in a temperate region (Belgium) to what extent cattle may suffer from heat stress (measured through body temperature, respiration rate and panting score, cortisol or its metabolites in milk, and feces on hot days) and at assessing the potential benefits of shade. During the summer of 2012, 20 cows were kept on pasture without access to shade. During the summer of 2011, ten cows had access to shade (young trees with shade cloth hung between them), whereas ten cows had no access. Climatic conditions were quantified by the Heat Load Index (HLI). In animals without access to shade respiration rates, panting scores, rectal temperatures, and milk cortisol concentrations increased as HLI increased in both 2011 and 2012. Fecal cortisol metabolites varied with HLI in 2011 only. When cattle had access to shade, their use of shade increased as the HLI increased. This effect was more pronounced during the last part of the summer, possibly due to better acquaintance with the shade construction. In this case, shade use increased to 65% at the highest HLI (79). Shade tempered the effects on respiration, rectal temperature, and fecal cortisol metabolites. Milk cortisol was not influenced by HLI for cows using shade for > 10% of the day. Therefore, even in temperate areas, cattle may suffer from heat when they are at pasture in summer and providing shade can reduce such stress.
KeywordsAnimal welfare Cortisol Dairy cows Heat Panting Shade
We thank the animal caretakers and technicians at the ILVO Animal Sciences Unit (especially Seppe Holemans, Sara Van Lembergen, and Thijs Decroos) and master student Evelien Van de Keere. Thanks also to Edith Klobetz-Rassam and to Christine Ravel for steroid analyses and to Miriam Levenson (ILVO) for English-language editing.
This study was funded by the Federal Public Service of Health, Food Chain Safety and Environment (contract RT 10/13 Pastress).
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