Temperature sensors providing a vital tool for cattle ranchers
Wednesday, Mar 20th 2013

Recent climate trends have sparked a wave of concern for the potential effects caused across many agricultural and livestock industries. National Geographic reported that 2012 was the warmest year on record the continental United States, with the average temperature reaching 55.3 degrees Fahrenheit. That figure is one degree higher than the previous record, set in 1998. Causing further alarm has been widespread trends of aridity, with the average precipitation total for the contiguous U.S. measured at 26.57 inches, 2.57 inches below the historical average. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Jake Crouch warned that if the trend continued, the nation could begin see more unusually warm years.

The implications for livestock
If warming trends continue, it could be extremely problematic for cattle farmers as the animals have a far lower tolerance to heat than humans. According to the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, cattle have an upper critical temperature that is cooler than humans by approximately 20 degrees Fahrenheit. In 90 degree conditions, for instance, while a person may feel uncomfortable, a cow would be in danger of extreme heat stress. Furthermore, cattle production is concentrated to the United States' central region, including Texas, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma, according to the EPA. This area experiences higher than average temperatures compared to much of the continental United States. Oklahoma alone experiences, on average, 71 days with temperatures at or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the Oklahoma Climatological Survey.

Identifying at risk cattle
The development of dairy cows into high-producing livestock has further exasperated their tendencies toward overheating. The New York Times reported that researchers from the University of Arizona and Northwest Missouri State conducted a study on how to identify cattle at-risk for heat exhaustion and found that dairy-yield demands had made the animals more susceptible to overheating.

"Heat exhaustion is a fairly common problem in summer months over most of the U.S., especially as our cows have gotten to be high-producing animals," University of Arizona researcher Robert Collier said, according to the news outlet. "They're eating more and producing more heat, so they're more sensitive."

Researchers measured the cattle's internal body conditions with temperature sensors. In addition, the team affixed sensors to the cows' legs to determine if they were standing or lying down. The study found that cattle that registered 102 degrees Fahrenheit or higher on their temperature monitors were more likely to stand for long stretches of time. Researchers said cattle with higher temperatures preferred standing most likely because it increased air circulation across their bodies, allowing body heat to escape. They cautioned, however, that the cattle ultimately use more energy standing than lying down. According to the research team, farmers should coax their livestock to lie down in extreme heat conditions as well as provide a steady mist of cool water. Living the Country Life further recommended that farmers supply their livestock with ample shade and clean water as well as limiting daily activity to the early morning hours when temperatures are significantly lower.