Veterinarians & Nutritionists Encourage Dairy & Beef Producers to Proactively Manage Heat Stress


Heat stress costs dairy and beef producers hundreds of millions each year. Proactive measures implemented before an extreme heat event can reduce immediate and long-term impacts of heat stress in ruminants.

“Mitigating impacts of heat stress begins before an extreme heat event,” explains Jessica Fox, Veterinarian and Director of Veterinary Services and Biosecurity for Ralco. “The impacts producers’ see are only a small portion of what is going on inside a ruminant during an extreme heat event.”

Fox explains that by the time ruminants show external signs of heat stress: going off feed, labored breathing, panting, increased water intake, decreased activity or sweating, heat stress has already begun to wreak havoc on vital, internal systems. “Heat stress triggers a cascade of events that impact a bovine’s production ability, make it susceptible to disease and, in extreme circumstances, death,” Fox says.

Fox and Dr. Jeff Hill, Ruminant Nutritionist and Brand Manager for Ralco discuss impacts of heat stress. They will share proven management practices to mitigate the impacts of heat stress and discuss Comfort™, Ralco’s new essential oil-based feed additive product. Utilizing plant-based nutrients or phytonutrients, Comfort reduces the negative impacts of heat stress in ruminants.

Access to water

During an extreme heat event, cattle need nearly double the amount of water they would typically consume. “Ensuring abundant access to cool, fresh water is the single, most important step beef and dairy producers can take,” Fox says.

Because heat events can tax automatic water capacity, Hill suggests putting out extra free-standing tanks prior to a heat event. “Not only does this ensure all have access to water, but it keeps the herd from bunching up around water tanks—exaggerating the issue,” Hill says.

Droplets. Not mist.

Prior to a heat event, producers should also test feedyard sprinkler systems to ensure they are functioning properly, emitting large enough droplets. If the droplets are too small, they can create added humidity, exasperating heat issues.


Providing shade is proven to help mitigate heat stress. Structures should be open and 8 to 14-feet tall to allow for proper ventilation and should provide between 20 and 40 square-feet-per-animal depending on animal size. If shade cannot be supplied, simply providing bedding can be of benefit. The ground can trap heat and is capable of becoming up to 20 degrees hotter than the ambient air.

Fresh feed

Heat also impacts feed quality. “Feed rations heat up in the sun and begin to breakdown due to mold, yeast and bacteria growth. Not only are cattle appetites impacted during a heat event, but the feed itself is less appetizing,” Hill explains.

Capsicum, one component of Comfort, works to help stimulate water intake, and helps increase frequency of meals, spreading out the heat load and maintaining better overall consumption. The antimicrobial properties of the other essential oils in Comfort help maintain feed freshness, further encouraging animals to eat.

Gut health=Immune health

Many of the natural defense mechanisms triggered when heat stress occurs, cause damage to a bovine’s intestinal tract, potentially leading to leaky gut syndrome. Caused by multiple factors, leaky gut describes a breakdown of the intestinal wall. This leads to bacteria, pathogens and other intestinal contents leaking through the intestine into the blood stream.

“The majority of the bovine animal’s immune system is found in their gut. When gut health is jeopardized, the immune system takes a major hit,” Fox explains.

In an attempt to cool down during an extreme heat event, blood is pulled away from the intestine to the bovine’s outer extremities, further weakening the protective lining of the gut wall, leading to leaky gut.

Comfort supports gut health through phytonutrients found in essential oils proven to create competitive exclusion by lowering gut pathogen levels and supporting the reproduction and growth of good bacteria.

“Through competitive exclusion, essential oils help the good bacteria crowd out pathogens and bad bacteria,” Fox explains. “Kind of like cover crops crowding out weeds in a field.”

Daily boost of antioxidants

Another way heat stress negatively impacts ruminant’s immune system and causes leaky gut is through the production of free radicals. “Heat stress causes cattle to create an excessive number of free radicals, leading to oxidative stress,” Fox says.

Free radicals, Fox explains, are a normal result of bovine’s metabolism and utilized by the immune system to fight pathogens. However, when too many are produced, they damage the intestinal track and cause an overreaction of the immune system. This creates inflammation, impacting overall performance, meat and milk quality.

Antioxidants neutralize free radicals, preventing them from causing further damage to the animal. Many phytonutrients are also antioxidants and can be found in the essential oils contained in Comfort.

Support insulin and glucose levels

Heat stress has been shown to significantly raise blood insulin levels. Excess insulin, drops blood glucose levels, reducing an animal’s ability to conduct typical production activities.

Simply put, excessive insulin is one reason, heat stress reduces milk production in a dairy cow and weight gain in a beef cow.

Components in Comfort help the animal better maintain more normal glucose and insulin levels.

Dial down the body’s thermostat

Overall, Comfort reduces the impacts of heat stress because it aids cattle in maintaining healthy body functions, or homeostasis. One method the phytonutrients contained in the product help achieve homeostasis is through interaction with the body’s transient receptor potential (TRP) channels.

TRP channels are located throughout the body, helping the body sense and respond to factors impacting the body, like extreme heat.

“TRPs impact the way an animal responds to many internal and external factors,” Hill explains. “Beyond extreme environmental temperature changes, TRPs impact a wide array of bodily functions. The fact that many phytonutrients can bind to, and either partially activate or deactivate these channels, provides a plausible mode of action by which various phytonutrients can elicit physiological responses in the animal. The key then, is to understand which phytonutrients and at what levels elicit the desired responses.”

For example, Hill explains that phytonutrients from oregano and thyme have a high affinity for the TRP channels associated with the animal’s ability to regulate body temperature.

To learn more about how Comfort can protect beef and dairy cattle and profits from heat stress, email or contact a representative at Ralco here.

Ralco is a third-generation family-owned multinational company with distribution in more than 40 countries. Ralco is a leading global supplier of natural solutions to maximize nutrient conversion in both plants and animals.


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