July 31, 2002 | By: Aimee D. Heald

Temperatures in Kentucky have been soaring into the 90s in recent weeks, bringing a heavy cloak of humidity with them. Livestock producers need to pay special attention to their animal's needs during this critical time.

University of Kentucky Agricultural Meteorologist Corey Pieper said the livestock heat index is different from the heat index reported on local weather reports. A heat index is not the actual temperature, but rather how hot the humidity makes it feel outside.

"Livestock become uncomfortable when our heat index reaches about 90 degrees," he said. "The biggest concern is humidity. It could be 120 degrees outside, but if the dew point is low enough, animals will be fine."

Pieper said usually dew points above 65 degrees lead officials to declare conditions dangerous for livestock. Extreme conditions lead to an emergency designation. For now, much of the Commonwealth is in the danger category for most of the daylight hours. Eastern Kentucky is the exception only being in the danger category for half of the daylight hours.

Livestock specialists at the UK College of Agriculture say the best things to do for livestock during hot and humid weather is to provide plenty of fresh water, adequate feed and shade.

Bill Crist, UK Extension dairy specialist said the most important thing producers can do is provide shade with buildings as open as possible.

"Also, adding fans inside the buildings can help keep air flowing," he said. "When you bring the cows into the milking parlor, don't move them fast and try to keep them calm."

Crist said that all species of livestock will benefit from early morning or evening feeding times to avoid eating in the hottest parts of the day.

One thing some dairy producers are doing is installing sprinkler systems that spray a cool mist of water for about three minutes at a time. After the sprinklers shut off, the fans keep blowing and evaporate water and heat off the cows. In moderate heat, sprinklers are off for 15 minutes before coming back on, but in hotter weather, Crist said the off time can be reduced to provide more relief.

"Providing cool clean water is probably the most important thing all producers can do on hot days," said Patty Scharko, UK Extension veterinarian. "Providing good shade is a close second. Put hay close to popular shade areas so the animals will eat that instead of any poisonous plants that may be present in those areas."

Scharko said this is also a time of year when people throw out clippings from the Japanese Yew, a popular ornamental plant. She said cattle like anything green and producers should keep them away from Yew clippings since ingesting them can be fatal to cattle.

Crist said it's important for producers to avoid transporting animals in hot weather. Traveling can put the animals under added stress and cause more problems down the road.

Pieper said the forecast is for the livestock heat index to remain in the danger category for much of the foreseeable future, at times moving into the emergency category during afternoons in central and western parts of the state.


Bill Crist  859-257-7543