Rising Temps Bring Lower Profits For Dairy Farmers

This week's record-setting warmth hinders milk production in cows

Triple digit temperatures and oppressive heat indices make being outside uncomfortable for most of us. But imagine being stuck in barn, and covered in fur. Dairy farmers are bracing for the extreme heat over the next few days to keep their cows alive and maintain their businesses.  

Work on Turner County Dairy Farm in Parker doesn’t stop on Mother Nature’s watch. Manager Steve Bossman still does daily chores like feeding and milking, but now he’s paying extra close attention to how his 1,600 cows are acting.

“All the cows will start bunching up right into the middle of the barn so you know that they’re uneasy,” says Bossman.

That’s a sign that the cows are over heated, and hot cows, are bad for business.

“Cows can handle one maybe two days of hot weather. When you start getting into that four or five day range, then they just can’t recoup.”

Bossman says that over the next three days, each cow will produce five to six pounds less milk. It may seem like a small amount, but consider this. An adult cow produces about 70 pounds of milk a day or about 8 gallons. For this farm, that’s about 7,000 pounds of milk per day, or in other words…

“It’ll be close to $1,500 to $2,000 a day that we’ll have less income just from the heat,” he explains.

And that’s just in the short-term. If the heat gets really unbearable, it could kill the cows – that would result in a total loss for Bossman. That’s because the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) only insures mass livestock loss under the Livestock Indemnity Program or (LIP), unless the farmer has a higher insurance policy of his or her livestock.

So, how does Bossman protect his herd, all while watching his bottom dollar. Well, he does with sprinklers.

“Every 10 minutes the cow will get sprinklers on them for one minute,” said Bossman who has been in the dairy business for nearly 30 years.

Couple that with industrial size fans and maximized cross-breeze through open windows, they are just simple precautions to keep milk in your glass every morning.

Bossman says you don’t start a dairy farm in South Dakota without thinking about the weather. So, the barn itself was designed with no trees on the east-side of the property, so there are no barriers to stop the wind.

The heat often times stresses the animals out to the point where they stop eating and drinking. A hot spell in 2011 killed more than 1,500 cattle in South Dakota.