During the dog days of summer, how do cows chill from the heat? Dairy farmers put resources like water, wind and sand to work in keeping their cows cool during heat waves.

“Our number one priority is to make sure our cows are comfortable at all times, especially as temperatures rise,” says Brad Almeter of Breezyhill Dairy in Strykersville, New York.

Chilling Under Cow Cooling Sprinklers

Barns like those at Breezyhill, and Way-Har Farms in Bernville, Pennsylvania, have sprinklers that automatically activate once the barn reaches a certain temperature. Similar to lawn sprinklers, only elevated, the series of pipes run the length of the barn above the cows. The sprinkler heads evenly disperse water in a 360-degree radius across the pen. Once the cow’s skin is soaked, the sprinklers are turned off, allowing for evaporation, which is the process that removes heat from the cow.

Fanning off heat  

Cows on a dairy farm eating food that has been given to them.

Just like sprinklers, fans can be operated by thermostats and automatically turn on when temperatures rise. Found at farms like A. Ooms & Sons Dairy Farm in Valatie, New York, and Way-Har Farms, this technology helps farmers with energy efficiency and water conservation.

“We have 52 large propeller fans that line the ceiling of the barn that help move warm air away from the cows while circulating in fresh air,” says Jaylene Lesher, herd manager at Way-Har Farms.

Barns Designed for Cooling

An overhead view of cows on a dairy farm.

Some farm buildings are also designed with cooling in mind, like the barn at Porterdale Farms in Adams, New York. “Our barn was built to maximize ventilation,” says Lisa Porter. “Situated east to west, our barn captures the blowing wind. The roof line and cupolas on the exterior of the roofs were engineered to draw the warm air generated by the cows up and out of the barn,” Porter explains. To maintain comfortable temperatures, Porter’s cooling barn is also insulated and has automatic curtains that open and close based on wind speed and humidity.

 Calf Hutches: Naturally ventilated  

A calf stands inside of a small tent.

Focusing on calf comfort, Crystal Stambaugh of Pheasant Echo’s Farm in Westminster, Maryland, says little adjustments make a big difference. “Calf hutches have either rear or roof vents that are open in the summer for improved air flow, but we take it one step further and elevate the back of calf hutches which significantly increases ventilation. If we have extended days of heat, we will also feed the calves an electrolyte solution between their regular feedings to help maintain and replenish fluids.”

Cool, Cool Water

A cow's snout submerged in water as it drinks.

Water plays a key role in milk production and regulating the body temperature of cows. Cows always have access to clean fresh water, however during the summer, dairy farmers increase the number of times they refill waterers. Some dairy cows are also equipped with activity monitors, like fit bits, which allow farmers to keep a close eye on their health. This technology tracks the cow’s temperature and alerts farmers when a cow’s temperature rises above normal so adjustments can be made to restore optimal comfort levels.

Sand Bedding for Cows

A cow sitting in its pen while looking towards the camera.

Some farmers use recycled sand for cow bedding which stays cool in the summer. Cows are very large creatures, and sand beds offer them extra traction and support, allowing cows to get up and down with ease. And because sand is so forgiving, it disperses the cow’s weight over a wide area, providing comfort and promoting longer resting times.

Cows are more comfortable at cooler temperatures. From shade in the barn and large fans to sprinklers and thirst-quenching water, each helps make a difference in keeping cows cool during summer, especially during heat waves!

Watch  news interviews with dairy farmers on how they keep cows cool in extreme temperatures:
  • Tom Barley of Star Rock Dairy in Conestoga, Pa., was featured on WHTM in Harrisburg.
  • Justin Risser of Meadow Vista Farm in Banbridge, Pa., was featured on WGAL in Harrisburg.