How to Manage Heat Stress in Cattle

Dr. Erika Nagorske

Jun. 16, 2021

As temperatures rise, it’s time to start thinking about the causes and effects of heat stress in cattle. Even at 80 degrees Fahrenheit, cattle endure a significant amount of stress trying to deal with their heat load. 

Cattle don’t sweat effectively and rely on their own respiration to cool themselves. And when outside pests like flies aggravate animals, heat stress can affect them even more. 

That’s why it’s important to spot the signs of heat stress early to provide effective relief to livestock during the hot and humid summer months. 

Signs of heat stress

Cattle have a primitive reaction when faced with problems like flies. They crowd together in the hope that the flies will affect their neighbors instead of themselves.

You’ll often see cattle gathered together in a pen, stomping and kicking manure trying to fight flies away. As cattle attempt to deal with the fly problem, they will avoid lying down or drinking water. Unfortunately, all of this behavior contributes to heat stress even more.

When this happens, the signs will be fairly clear that the animals are stressed. Some of the common signs of heat stress in cattle are excessive salivation, panting or mouth breathing, lack of coordination, and even trembling.

Effects of heat stress

When the effects of heat stress become a problem, it can create numerous issues for your livestock and your production system.

It is not limited to older animals and can affect even young calves. But generally, animals that have had past health issues will be the first to be affected by heat stress. They will also be the most severely affected. 

Some of the most common effects of heat stress include:

  • Change in behavior

  • Increased susceptibility to disease

  • Reduced feed intake

  • Reduced weight gain

  • Lower milk production

  • Reduced breeding efficiency

  • Lower birth weights for calves

  • Death

With these kinds of effects, it’s important to come up with an effective way to manage and treat heat stress.

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How to manage and treat heat stress

As both temperatures and physical activities rise for animals, it’s important to realize that  there will be a significant water demand. 

Providing proper hydration for animals with heat stress is key to treating the issue. According to Iowa State University, a 1,000 pound animal needs about 1.5 gallons of water per hour.

During the summer months, automatic water tanks may not be able to keep up with the demand of your animals. Adding a stock tank of water to a pen for your animals will provide extra hydration. Providing clean and cool drinking water will help stabilize the animal’s internal temperature and cool them down.

Providing the animals with adequate space will also help with heat abatement. Spreading your cattle out will hopefully prevent them from crowding one another. 

It’s also important to consider providing proper shade for animals during extremely warm days to help reduce their body temperature. Shade from trees and buildings is effective when animals have between 20 to 40 square feet of shade.  

Finally, ensure that barns or anywhere cattle gather has adequate ventilation during extremely hot days. This can be as simple as adding fans when necessary.

If you do add fans to your ventilation system, it’s important to conduct proper maintenance on your equipment to ensure air flow is not reduced or blocked. You also need to be sure fans provide consistent airflow to animals in their pen.

Stay cool under stress

Recognizing the effects of heat stress during the hot and humid summer months is important for keeping your cattle healthy and productive. Recognizing the early signs of heat stress will ensure that you’re able to manage and hopefully prevent the problem from becoming too serious. 

Having an effective fly control program in your arsenal will help curb some of the stress that the heat brings to your animals.

It’s not too late to control flies, FBN® fly control products are on sale until June 30th.


The above is provided for information purposes only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of any condition. This information does not cover all possible variables, conditions, reactions, or risks relating to any topic, medication, or product and should not be considered complete. Certain products or medications may have risks and you should always consult your local veterinarian concerning the treatment of your animals.

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Dr. Erika Nagorske

Jun. 16, 2021