If lactating dairy cattle get too hot, they don’t produce as much milk, and that can add up to economic losses of more than $1 billion a year in the U.S. alone, University of Florida researchers say.
This loss can easily double if dry cows — those in late pregnancy that are not lactating — suffer from heat stress. That stress causes cows to produce less milk during their next lactation, and also affects the growing fetus, said Jimena Laporta, an assistant professor of animal sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
So, it’s just as important to keep the pregnant dry cows cool during hot months, Laporta said.
A new UF/IFAS study found that, two years after birth, cows born from heat-stressed mothers produced less milk. The research delves into why dairy calves that experience heat stress in the womb, particularly during the last trimester, produce less milk later.
UF/IFAS researchers looked at the mammary glands from cows that were born from heat-stressed mothers and found that excessive heat in the womb limited the optimal growth and development of those glands. This exposure to heat stress in the uterus likely leads to less dairy production in adulthood, Laporta said.
But if pregnant dry cows go through systems that relieve the heat — such as shade, fans and water soakers — the mammary glands of their offspring are normal.
Thus, by cooling pregnant dry cows, dairy farmers can kill two birds with one stone: avoid lower milk production of the cow in her next lactation and their daughters two years later, Laporta said.
For the past eight years, UF/IFAS researchers have shown that when pregnant cows are exposed to too much heat before they calve, they produce less milk in their next lactation. “Now we know that heat exposure in the womb compromises normal mammary gland development and reduces the milk production of their offspring two years later,” Laporta said.
The study led by Laporta and Geoffrey Dahl, a UF/IFAS animal sciences professor, is published in the journal PLOS ONE.
The mission of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is to develop knowledge relevant to agricultural, human and natural resources and to make that knowledge available to sustain and enhance the quality of human life. With more than a dozen research facilities, 67 county Extension offices, and award-winning students and faculty in the UF College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, UF/IFAS works to bring science-based solutions to the state’s agricultural and natural resources industries, and all Florida residents. Visit the UF/IFAS web site at ifas.ufl.edu and follow us on social media at @UF_IFAS.