A Moment with Jerry Pless

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Dairy name: George Pless & Sons Dairy
Location: Rockwell, N.C.
Herd size: 250
Farm size: 600 acres

3 things we need to do to keep our cows comfortable during the summer:

  1. Keep the air moving
    “We run fans in the summer. Any time it gets above 70 to 75 degrees outside, they are on. The one freestall barn houses about 140 cows and there are 12 fans in there. We also have an open lot with freestalls around the outside and we stretch shade cloth over it, like you would see in greenhouses. It’s a poly-type cloth that stretches good and tight and is pretty rugged. It will last for years. The only problem we’ve had was when a hurricane came through a few years ago and really tore it up. But we leave the shade cloth up until late summer or early fall. There are also about 75 to 80 cows in this open lot, and we’ve got 10 fans to keep them cool. We also bed with sand because it tends to be cooler than shavings or sawdust.”
  2. Cut food and add nutrients 
    “We do change their rations some. We bump up the potassium a bit because it’s excreted more in the summertime as the cows drink a lot more water. Also, we’ve got less forage in the rations because, you know, it’s a lot harder for cows to digest forage. Anytime you’ve got cows working that hard to digest their food, you’re creating more energy, which just makes for a hotter cow. When it gets above 95 degrees and the humidity is 70 to 80 percent, they are stressing. You see them standing around panting — sometimes with their tongues hanging out. Also, they are not eating as much, so it’s a good idea to concentrate their feed. We add an electrolyte to their rations, too. We feel like this has made a difference in cow comfort and production. It’s just like people
    who use sports drinks with electrolytes in the summer when they are sweating more.”
  3. Water for drinking and cooling
    “What most people do is something called evaporative cooling. This is where the cows are wetted down with a sprinkler and then fans come on to dry them off. It’s a cycle that carries on through the summer heat. We were doing this until about four years ago. But we found we were just getting the cows and the ground around them too wet, and we were just creating more problems than we were solving. Now a sprinkler in the ceiling sprays the cows in the holding pen when we’ve got them in a tight spot. Of course, we’ve always got good clean drinking water easily available to the herd.”