For a state with a usually mild and comfortable climate, Washington is welcoming August with the complete opposite- an extreme heat wave. Temperatures like this can cause added stress for the people, but also other important residents…dairy cows.
Washington is home to more than 275,000 dairy cows who are most content and productive in temperatures ranging from 40-70° Fahrenheit (F), which on a normal day makes the Pacific Northwest the perfect place for them to live. But, warm days cause the cows to feel lethargic and downright uncomfortable.
Fortunately, dairy farmers are equipped with techniques and technology to keep their cows as cool and happy as possible in the heat.
Michelle Schilter, of Sun Ton Farms in Chehalis, finds this weather extremely challenging as a western Washington farmer, but finds ways to work around it to ensure her cows are as comfortable as they can be.
“When heat like this comes, we adjust our milking schedule so the cows are in the parlor at cooler times of the day,” explained Michelle. “A big priority for us especially right now is comfortable bedding. In milder weather, our cows are usually in the fields all day, but with temperatures like this they like to be in our free stall barn with the fans so we’re putting down extra bedding to adjust and make sure the cows have a comfortable spot to lay. We keep an extra eye on the calves, too and make sure they have a full bucket of water at all times.”
Not only does the heat effect the cow’s comfort, it also takes a toll on their productivity, which is why dairy processors need to prepare for challenges. Monty Schilter, Manager of Membership and Strategic Analysis at Darigold, said this heat wave isn’t as bad as other years, but they are still taking steps to ensure their operations move smoothly.
“We usually see a 5-20% drop in milk production,” stated Monty. “The actual components of milk change when cows are experiencing heat stress, too. For example, the ratio between protein and fat vary significantly from their usual percentages which can be an issue in our cheese production.”
“The number one thing for me as a dairy farmer is always to make sure my cows are healthy and feeling good,” concluded Michelle Schilter. “As much as I enjoy summer, my cows and I are ready for fall.”