Agriculture News: Livestock feeling the heat; proper watering important

By Keenan Bishop Published:

It’s a given every year but we always talk about it and complain about it nonetheless. I’m talking the heat and humidity.

For the most part, today’s farmers have air conditioned homes, tractor cabs and pickups, they still must spend a good bit of their day out under the sun in the heat and humidity. They know to drink plenty of water and pace themselves. Most are just plain tough anyway and like the rest of the non-office tradesman, they just take it as part of the job.

Animals on the other hand are pretty much stuck outside in extremes and at the mercy of the weather and their owners or handlers. Fortunately, most have evolved to be able to deal with weather extremes, assuming we have not limited them in some way.

Having water available to livestock in every paddock is important for maximum animal performance and health. Dry matter intake is directly related to water intake. The less water an animal drinks, the less feed it will consume which results in reduced gains, milk production, and animal performance.

Strategically placed water not only benefits livestock but benefits pastures as well. Don’t forget the quantity needed either, a beef cow can easily consume 10 gallons a day.

Not a ‘social event’

It is suggested that water be placed within 800 feet of all areas of the pastures. Having water in ideal locations encourages more uniform grazing and manure distribution. This will also allow for smaller water troughs to be used as drinking will not become a “social event.”

When livestock must travel further distances to water they will travel as a herd. This behavior causes lounging at the water source, manure build-up, increased soil compaction, and the need for a larger trough with higher flow rates to provide adequate water to the whole herd.

Typically, only a few animals will drink at a given time if the water is placed within 800 feet of the herd. This will reduce travel time to water source as well as time spent standing around water, which, in turn, increases time spent grazing.

As the temperature and humidity increase, water intake will also increase. Livestock prefer water to be near body temperature. Water should not be too warm in order to keep intake at ideal levels and to keep animal performance at a maximum. Thus, waterers may need to be shaded in the summertime. Larger animals and lactating animals require larger amounts of water. It is vital that there is enough water available for the entire herd.

Pastures in pain

Hot temperatures and limited water hurt pastures too. One trick producers use is to incorporate pastures containing alfalfa or alfalfa-grass mixes into their grazing system. Alfalfa tends to have a deep root system, which makes it more drought tolerant than other cool-season legumes and grasses, and alfalfa will continue to produce while other cool-season grasses go dormant during periods of extreme drought according to UK Forage Specialist Garry Lacefield.

Many producers may be worried about coming up short on pastureland if the dry conditions continue. Those producers can plant late-season summer annuals such as sudangrass, sorghum-sudangrass and pearl millet, to provide emergency pasture for their animals. However, these grasses should be planted after a rain and will need moisture to get established, which may be difficult in areas already in a drought.

These forages are only a short-term fix. UK forage extension specialist Ray Smith said many producers tend to avoid planting these forages because sudangrass and sorghum-sudangrass have the potential to cause prussic acid and/or nitrate poisoning.

Pearl millet only has the potential for nitrate poisoning. But these summer annual forages are high yielding and high quality forages. The potential for toxicity problems is low when these forages are carefully managed. Producers should watch that animals do not graze them at an early growth stage or immediately after a frost or during a severe drought.

To help prevent prussic acid and nitrate poisoning, animals should only be allowed access to enough pasture for one to three days, only graze warm-season annuals that are at least 18 inches tall, and avoid grazing these grasses during or shortly after droughts when stand growth is severely reduced. UK extension publications on rotational grazing, summer annuals and extending the grazing season are available under the publications section on the UK forage website,

Beef show

This Saturday at Lake­view Park is the Franklin County Fair Youth & Open Beef Show. The show starts at 9 a.m. with all cattle on the grounds by 8:30. The ring and stalls are covered so the hot summer sun shouldn’t prevent you from coming out and viewing the breeds and watching the show.

Field Day July 12

The Farm-City Field Day is set for 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Thursday, July 12 at the Peyton farm, 739 Colston Lane. Tickets are free and available at the Farm Bureau Offices on Wilkinson Blvd. and in Prevention Park.

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