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Heat Stress In Cattle And The Effect Of Shade On Production And Behaviour: A Review

JK Blackshaw, AW Blackshaw

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At high temperatures, evaporative cooling is the principal mechanism for heat dissipation in cattle. It is influenced by humidity and wind speed and by physiological factors such as respiration rate, and density and activity of sweat glands. Following exposure to heat, cattle appear to acclimatise within 2-7 weeks. The failure of homeostasis at high temperatures may lead to reduced productivity or even death. Knowledge of characteristic behavioural signs of increasing heat stress may alert cattle handlers to impending heat distress, particularly in areas of potential climatic extremes of high temperatures and humidities. Reduction of the heat increment of feeding by dietary manipulation may partially protect cattle from forecast heat stress. Under high heat stress, Bos indicus breeds and their crosses have better heat regulatory capacities than Bos taurus breeds, due to differences in metabolic rate, food and water consumption, sweating rate, and coat characteristics and colour. Also, because Bos taurus have a higher heat loading at the skin, they must evaporate substantially more sweat than Bos indicus to maintain normal body temperatures. Welfare concerns exist about heat stress and the provision of shade for feedlot cattle. In hot weather, cattle actively seek shade, which may reduce the radiant heat load by 30% or more. Under conditions of extreme heat load, shading may maintain production and reduce deaths from heat stroke. Shading of feed and water also offers production advantages for British and European breeds of cattle.