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Heat stress in
dairy cattle

Heat stress in dairy cows can have negative consequences for milk production, and for reproduction, welfare and health.

Heat stress in dairy cattle has been a major problem worldwide for decades. It is increasing with climate changes and improved breeding and management of dairy cows, leading to increased metabolic heat generation by the animals.

Addressing the causes of Heat Stress in dairy animals

Dairy cows are homoeothermic animals and as such, they need to maintain a constant body temperature of around 38.8°C. They are sensitive to factors which influence their thermal exchange with the environment, which include air temperature, radiant temperature, air velocity and relative humidity.

Consequences of Heat Stress

If a dairy cow is unable to control her thermal balance, and she becomes heat stressed, there can be impacts on welfare, reproduction, and health as well as losses in global milk production. Dairy farmers have put in place several strategies to prevent their livestock from suffering heat stress. 

Looking ahead, IDF will be leading a project which aims at providing some global guidance on commonly used heat stress mitigation methods for different climate conditions. 

For more information on this project, please refer to the IDF Standing Committee on Animal Health and Welfare

The dairy sector supports animal welfare

The dairy sector is committed to implementing best practices to ensure animal welfare based on scientific evidence and reference standards. The IDF promotes the implementation of good animal welfare practices in dairy production at global scale and refers to key standards.

We identify five key action areas to be considered when developing and implementing quality management systems for dairy animal welfare.

IDF's five action areas for good animal welfare

Good stockmanship

Good stockmanship underlies the success of the dairying operation. The handling of animals should foster a positive relationship between humans and animals and should not cause injury, panic, lasting fear or avoidable stress.

Proper Nutrition

Animals should have access to sufficient feed and water, suited to the animals’ age and needs, to maintain normal health and productivity, and to prevent prolonged hunger, thirst, malnutrition or dehydration.

Adequate Physical Environment

Dairy cattle in commercial production may be kept in housed or pastured systems, or a combination of both and should have a good milking environment and facilities, feedlot areas and yards for holding animals, as well as adequate housing – a plan should be in place to manage and evacuate animals in case of disaster situations.

Responsible Husbandry Practices

Animals should be treated with care and kindness; milking should be comfortable and subjected to as little pain as possible. They should have a safe, adequate place to give birth, and should be transported in line with national regulations.

Robust Health Management

Veterinarians are trained animal health professionals and their advice should be sought in all matters of animal health management. Health management plans should meet relevant national and international veterinary requirements.

If you would like to learn more, please see  Bulletin of the IDF N° 498/ 2019: The IDF Guide to Good Animal Welfare in Dairy Production 2.0

This detailed guide is a collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). It is intended for use by farmers, organisations, dairy processors, and farmer organisations.

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