Farmers, cows trying to beat the heat

With temperatures creeping up into the 90s this week, it’s not just humans dealing with the sweat.

Tucked away in barns and pastures throughout the Shenandoah Valley, cows are trying to beat the heat too, and their owners are doing their best to help them out.

The standard practice for farmers involves keeping cows in the shade, ventilating their living spaces with fans and misting them with cool water, said Jordan Green, owner of J & L Green Farm.

“You’ll notice the stress,” Green said. “Cows can get real slobbery on their mouth if they’re getting hot. That’s when it’s getting to a critical level.”

However, new environmental restrictions make things tougher for livestock farmers, said Billy French, owner of French Brothers Dairy. He said farmers used to take cows into streams, rivers and woodlots to keep cool, but those practices aren’t allowed anymore due to damage to the water and soil.

French uses the standard shade, fans and mist trifecta to keep his cows cool. However, he said if a heat wave lasts long enough, he’ll start expecting yield decreases from his animals.

“With dairy cows, you can definitely see a drop in production on the hot days.”

Corey Childs, an agricultural extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, said the heat can cause noticeable decreases in dairy outputs.

“Enough extreme heat over time can reduce production from 10 to 30 percent depending on how extreme the stress is,” he said.

As an additional cooling measure, Childs said farmers should do their best to spread the cows out to mitigate the multiplying effect of their collective body heat.

However, some farmers – and their cows – have more to deal with than others. Mike Stiles, co-owner of Waverly Farms, said his Jersey cattle handle heat better than Holstein Friesian cattle.

While Stiles keeps fans going in his barn, he said his layout does not allow for misters, but his animals get along fine without them.

“Jerseys seem to be a little more tolerant of the heat than others,” he said.

Until a cold front arrives to break up the heat, farmers will be working to keep their cows shaded, their thirsts quenched and their air circulating.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or