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In Vermont dairy country, heat wave forces precautions

AP newswire report Published on 25 July 2011

It's not often in Vermont dairy country that temperatures soar into the 90s, with high humidity. When they do, farmers make sure their cows have plenty of water and shade. And they know to expect less milk.

That's what they were doing as a sweltering summer heat wave continued, with forecasters calling for it to last into the weekend.

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At Circle Saw Farm in Braintree, whirling ceiling fans with 24-foot-long blades and a hilltop breeze kept the 300 cows comfortable in a free-stall open air barn. Nearby, heifers stayed cool in another barn equipped with wind-tunnel ventilation – large fans at one end pulling a breeze through the 300-foot-long building.

"The wind always blows from that way, 90 percent of the time, so we get a good breeze," said farmer Robert Simpson.

Many dairy farms use fans or sprinkler systems that spray water and good old-fashioned shade to keep their milkers from overheating.

When cows get too hot, they don't eat as much, so they don't produce as much milk, said Joel Russo, assistant state veterinarian for the state Agency of Agriculture.

Production can go down as much as 5 percent, said Simpson.

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To keep the cows nourished, Simpson feeds them more often, giving a little more grain and a little less forage. The feed is also moved around and cleaned out more often, to keep it fresh, he said.

"If it's hotter, and they're eating a little less, the percentage of grain would be a little higher than normal, because they won't eat quite as many pounds of feed," he said.

Water, shade, ventilation and minimal stress are key for livestock during a heat wave.

"We make darn sure they have plenty of water," said Beverly Wright, of Wright Family Farm, in Bethel.

The family's cows spend their days and nights – in between milkings – out in a pasture, ducking under trees for shade.

"We try not to hurry them," she said. "While they're laying out the shade, we're doing their hay for them."

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But a prolonged stretch of 90-degree days could spell trouble for sick, old or very young cows.

Fans will be set up in the animal barns at the Lamoille County Field Days in Johnson, which opens Friday. The livestock – horses, cows and other animals – will have access to plenty of water, not only to drink but to be doused in.

"Fortunately, people are pretty good about monitoring their animals," said state veterinarian Kristin Haas. PD

—AP newswire report

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