Water: A Key Element for Cow Cooling from The Inside-Out

October 29, 2020

When thinking about achieving cow comfort, our focus at VES revolves around the engineering, design, and layout of fans, lighting, soaking technology, and high-pressure fogging within a barn. Those elements comprise the core of what we do, but it’s not everything.

Consider this: 88 percent of milk consists of water, so ensuring plenty of fresh drinking water is available to cows at all times is a key to any successful cooling strategy. On average, a cow consumes anywhere between 30 and 50 gallons of water per day, so when you calculate that out across the entire herd, that is a lot of water. We recommend as a best practice that each cow has 3 inches or more of linear drinking space within 50 feet of her living space. That ensures easy access and enough volume for cows to stay cool and hydrated.

According to industry analysis, a cow that produces 100 pounds of milk daily is passing about 11 gallons of that water through her udder as milk. The remainder is expended as urine, manure, and through the respiratory tract as humidity. That moisture maintains mucus flow through the respiratory tract to eliminate bacteria, viruses, and molds, and dust particles that can cause disease. From a cooling perspective, it accounts for roughly 30 percent of the cow’s cooling potential. Visually, that’s why you see a cow panting as her core body temperature rises.

Researchers have also found that as a cow’s body temperature rises, so does the prevalence of panting. If you’re looking for an easy, low-tech way to get a ballpark measure of whether cows are in heat stress, we consider 60 breaths per minute (BPM) as “no heat stress” and 85 or above as “severe heat stress.”

See the chart below for the correlation between BPM, body temperature, and Temperature Humidity Index, which we use as a gauge of environmental heat stress.

(Graph Provided by the University of Minnesota Extension)

What You Need to Remember:

  • Making water accessible and plentiful is a high-value upgrade you can make in your barn to achieve an appropriate Animal-Centered Environment that keeps cows hydrated and cool.
  • 88 percent of milk consists of water. Water is a key building block for cow comfort and high-quality milk.
  • Think of fresh drinking water the same way you think of fresh air: Cow’s need both to reach their full production potential.

To learn more about equipping your herd’s living environment with enough fresh drinking water, reach out to our team of dairy experts today.