Easy-to-implement, low-cost measures are being used to reduce heat stress and keep cows cool heading into summer.
With El Niño conditions predicted, herds in drought-affected regions will be particularly hit by heat and humidity, while dairy regions in southern Australia should also plan for any extreme heat.
The University of Queensland School of Agriculture and Food Sciences Assoc Prof John Gaughan, who has been researching heat stress in dairy cows for 20 years, said early intervention was the key to reducing heat stress.
"I think we can safely say that the incidence of heat stress is increasing - especially extreme events," Assoc Prof Gaughan said.
"But having said that, the adverse outcomes have decreased, in part because people are more aware, and have some strategies in place to decrease the negative effects."
Ensuring cows are cooled before and after milking and being proactive are key strategies used on farm.
"Don't wait until cows are hot - be proactive," Assoc Prof Gaughan said.
"Research is showing that night-time minimum temperature is in some ways more important than the day-time maximum - if it is a hot night, earlier and longer cooling may be necessary."
Assoc Prof Gaughan's research has highlighted the potential for cows in southern regions to be susceptible to extreme heat events.
"Cows in the south are particularly at risk of heat stress coming out of winter, and are more exposed to extreme heat events," Assoc Prof Gaughan said.
"In northern regions, high heat load, primarily due to high humidity, could subject cows to a higher incidence of heat stress.
"High-production cows are also more at risk of heat stress - in terms of milk yields, milk quality and reproduction. The reproduction effects can be long term."
Western Victorian veterinarian and dairy consultant Tom Walsh said cows would feel the effects of hotter weather more when humidity was higher, which was more likely in coastal areas in NSW and Queensland.
"Having a plan for dealing with hot weather is essential to maintaining a happy, productive herd over summer," Mr Walsh said.
As costs are increasing on farm, simple steps can be taken to reduce heat stress.
"A lot of farm budgets are becoming tighter and for many farmers, going out and spending money on major infrastructure is fairly difficult right now," Mr Walsh said.
"But there are shorter term and cheaper options available that can at least give farmers some capacity to get on top of things and minimise any effects from the heat."
Running a sprinkler in dairy sheds, reviewing milking times, ensuring water is readily available for cows, and keeping track of which paddocks have accessible shade are simple steps farmers can take to keep cows cool.
These are just some of the suggestions contained in Dairy Australia's recently updated Cool Cows website, which includes a range of the latest tools and resources available to assist you to keep cows cool this summer.
To access the Cool Cows website, visit coolcows.dairyaustralia.com.au. For advice or resources to assist the herd's reproduction, visit https://www.dairyaustralia.com.au/farm/animal-management/fertility.
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