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Keeping Cows Cool in the Dairy State

Wisconsin’s dairy industry contributes more than $20 billion to the state economy annually. Keeping Wisconsin’s dairy herd healthy and productive is vital. Veterinarians play a key role in this process which becomes even more crucial during Wisconsin’s hot and humid summers.

“As a veterinarian, I work to assist dairy producers in evaluating their current facilities or developing new facilities to ensure maximum comfort for all cows, therefore reducing their heat stress levels,” says Robert Farruggio, DVM, Jefferson Veterinary Clinic. “I also work to educate my clients on the importance of good ventilation and cooling systems, and how to properly treat those animals who are experiencing heat stress.”

Heat stress occurs in cattle when they are unable to regulate their body temperature. Heat stress typically happens when the temperature is over 80 degrees Fahrenheit and the humidity is higher than 50 percent, according to Dr. Farruggio.

“When cows become heat stressed, they begin to breathe rapidly and drool excessively. During extreme heat stress, cattle will become uncoordinated and eventually will lie down but not be able to get up,” states Dr. Farruggio.

Cattle are more prone to heat stress than humans because they are only able to sweat about 10 percent of what humans can.

“Normally, humans perspire to form moisture on the skin, which eventually evaporates, causing a cooling effect,” he describes.

Cattle’s inability to sweat, coupled with symptoms of heat stress, can negatively affect the health of a cow. Fortunately, there are numerous ways farmers can keep their cows cool.

“First of all, shade or shelter and fresh, clean water should be available to the cattle at all times,” Dr. Farruggio says. “Secondly, if possible with the farm set-up, soaking the cows by allowing water to gently be applied to their backs for short periods of time either in the holding area, milking parlor or along the feeding area, will increase the cooling effect when the water evaporates.”

Dr. Farruggio also recommends ventilation systems to keep air circulating. Dairies can use several different ventilation systems to help cows stay cool. Fans and open curtain sides on barns are two common ventilation systems used.

Additionally, a cross ventilation system can be implemented. “By utilizing a cross ventilation system, it increases airflow through the facility, providing fresh, cool air to the cows,” he explains. “When combined with a system that utilizes water applied to the back of the cow, it increases the evaporative effects, therefore cooling the cow even more.”

There are many different options dairy producers use to keep their cows comfortable. Rosy-Lane Holsteins, LLC, in Watertown, is just one of the farms in the state taking an innovative approach to cool their cows.

“Farms such as Rosy-Lane Holsteins that utilize milking parlors have successfully implemented a newer concept for using water to cool cows,” Dr. Farruggio explains. “This new design is to have showerheads installed above each milking stall. At least once during the milking process and after the units are removed, the water should be turned on for eight to 10 seconds to allow the backs of the cows to be drenched. After the cows exit the parlor, the water can then slowly evaporate, reducing heat stress.”

Veterinarians like Dr. Farruggio help dairy producers ensure their animals are healthy. Rosy-Lane Holsteins has more than 850 cows that each get showers to cool them down three times a day.

It is also vital for cows to have access to clean drinking water at all times. Adult cattle require between 20-24 gallons of water per day.

“When cattle become heat stressed, their requirements for water can increase by as much as 10 additional gallons. This is why it is very important to provide multiple locations of clean, fresh water,” he adds.

Clean drinking water, moving air, and misters or showers are all important aspects of a modern dairy that farmers implement and veterinarians recommend and oversee. This summer, the Dairy State is prepared for the heat!

To learn more about keeping cows cool in the summer, contact your local WVMA veterinarian. Find one online at!

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