By Janan Lenzy, NFU Intern

Last week on the Climate Column, we discussed the risks of drought to agriculture, and proposed methods to help farmers prepare for and mitigate those risks. As drought increases in frequency, length, and severity and as temperatures rise globally, both of which are expected to occur as the climate continues to change, farmers must not only be conscious of how those conditions will impact crops, but livestock as well.

Sustained drought and heat can be detrimental to cattle health. A study published on Science Direct found that heat stress can reduce cattle’s dry matter intake (DMI), complicate reproduction, and interfere with performance of all cattle, though the consequences are generally more severe in dairy than beef cattle.

These effects can ultimately decrease milk production, resulting in economic losses. To help farmers better prepare for the climate conditions that cause this type of stress, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agriculture Research Service has developed a seven-day forecast prediction tool, known as the Cattle Heat Stress Alert.

The purpose of the tool is to send email alerts when cattle heat stress conditions, including “temperatures, humidity, wind speed, and solar radiation,” are predicted in a targeted location based on data monitored by the Southeast Regional Climate Hub (SERCH). The tool also provides updates on forecast changes.

Farmers receiving these notifications before bad weather strikes can make arrangements and generate adaptation plans that can help cattle more easily endure uncomfortable conditions. These plans may incorporate methods like increasing water and shade availability and installing fans and sprinkler systems. For additional information on preparing livestock for inclement weather, please click here, and click here to subscribe to the Cattle Heat Stress Alert.

Are you concerned with the potential for heat stress on your cattle operation? Are there additional tools that have helped you make informed production decisions? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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