GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Cattle are a little like humans: They are more productive when they are cooler. With cattle, a cooler body helps with meat and dairy production, new University of Florida research shows.
Cows with shorter hair are cooler, and thus, more productive, said Raluca Mateescu, an associate professor of animal sciences at the UF Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. A calm cow is also more productive than an agitated one, Mateescu said.
When their bodies heat up, cattle use energy to try to lower their temperature, which usually means they eat less, said Mateescu, who led a recent study on body temperature and cattle traits.
“These findings would have the biggest impact for beef producers in hot, humid environments, largely in the southeast U.S. and other sub-tropical and tropical regions of the world,” Mateescu said.
Florida and much of the southern U.S. are in what’s called the “sub-tropics.” Places like Brazil, central Africa and the northern half of Australia are in the “tropics.” About half of the world’s meat and 60 percent of its dairy comes from the tropics and sub-tropics, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The U.S. livestock industry suffers an annual economic loss of $2.36 billion to heat stress, according to a 2003 study led by Ohio State University, the most recent national data available. Scientists predict most livestock throughout the U.S. will experience extreme summer heat in the years to come, which translates to less-productive cattle, Mateescu said.
For their research, Mateescu and other UF/IFAS colleagues studied 725 Brangus cows in south-central Florida. Brangus are a cross between Brahman and Angus cows and are the most common breed in Florida. Because Angus and Brahman possess such different traits, Brangus cattle are ideal to research relationships between the animal’s coat and demeanor and their body temperature, Mateescu said.
UF/IFAS researchers took cows’ temperature and temperament as they brought them through the chute. They also looked at how the cattle behaved.
“Some cattle are very agitated and move a lot in the chute, and they exit the chute by sprinting or jumping, while the calm ones will follow you and won’t kick or shake the chute,” Mateescu said. “Also, they exit the chute calmly, by just walking out.”
Normal body temperature is similar in beef cattle and humans. In humans, normal would be about 97 to 99 degrees Fahrenheit, according to health care professionals. In beef cattle, it starts at 98 and goes up to 102.
As a rule of thumb, when cows’ body temperature rises above 102.4 degrees Fahrenheit, they start eating less and produce less meat or milk, Mateescu said.
Now that UF/IFAS researchers have shown that cooler, calmer cattle can produce more milk and meat, producers might consider breeding their cattle for these traits, Mateescu said.
The UF/IFAS study is published in the Journal of Animal Science.
— Brad Buck
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