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Developing a ‘cow hutch’ to protect dairy herds from hot Texas summers

Men in western wear examine a tent

Texas A&M  AgriLife photo

Researchers from the animal science department at Texas A&M University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service have been studying how to improve the comfort and production of dairy cows and calves during sweltering summer months.

Ted Friend, a professor in the college’s Department of Animal Science, said since the 1950s, research has shown that calves subjected to heat stress have subpar performance, including increased deaths, reduced growth rates, impaired immunity, reduced feed intake, decreased feed efficiency, increased respiratory rates and increased rectal temperatures.

“When dry cows are cooled, their calves are heavier and they produce more milk,” Friend said. “And as dairy calves are far smaller than their dams, the question becomes: Do calves also need cooling to beat summertime heat and, if so, how can we provide economical cooling and still ensure their health?”

To find out, Friend and collaborators from the animal science department conducted a long-term study at two Texas dairies to determine how calf hutches might be best positioned and used to reduce heat stress on calves.

One of the goals of the project has been to develop an effective cover for under $4 per hutch that will last up to 90 days.

While the cover will be disposable, the bungees and PVC pipe required to attach the material to the hutch will be reusable, Friend said.

This would provide Texas dairy producers with an effective and inexpensive way to lower heifer body temperature and improve animal well-being and productivity.