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Cooling cows efficiently with water spray: Behavioral, physiological, and production responses to sprinklers at the feed bunk
- Chen, Jennifer M., Schütz, Karin E., Tucker, Cassandra B.
- Journal of dairy science 2016 v.99 no.6 pp. 4607-4618
- Holstein, air temperature, body temperature, climate, cooling, cows, dairies, free stalls, head, heat, loose housing, milk yield, nozzles, sprayers, sprinklers, walking, wastewater, weather
- Dairies commonly mount nozzles above the feed bunk that intermittently spray cows to dissipate heat. These sprinklers use potable water—an increasingly scarce resource—but there is little experimental evidence for how much is needed to cool cows in loose housing. Sprinkler flow rate may affect the efficacy of heat abatement, cattle avoidance of spray (particularly on the head), and water waste. Our objectives were to determine how sprinkler flow rate affects cattle behavioral, physiological, and production responses when cows are given 24-h access to spray in freestall housing, and to evaluate heat abatement in relation to water use. We compared 3 treatments: sprinklers that delivered 1.3 or 4.9L/min (both 3min on and 9min off, 24h/d) and an unsprayed control. Nine pairs of high-producing lactating Holstein cows received each treatment at a shaded feed bunk for 2d in a replicated 3×3 Latin square design [air temperature (T): 24-h maximum=33±3°C, mean ± SD]. Cows spent 5.8±0.9h/24h (mean ± SD) at the feed bunk overall, regardless of treatment. With few exceptions, cows responded similarly to the 1.3 and 4.9L/min flow rates. Sprinklers resulted in visits to the feed bunk that were on average 23 to 27% longer and 13 to 16% less frequent compared with the control, perhaps because cows avoided walking through spray. Indeed, when the sprinklers were on, cows left the feed bunk half as often as expected by chance, and when cows chose to walk through spray, they lowered their heads on average 1.7- to 3-fold more often than in the control. Despite possible reluctance to expose their heads to spray, cows did not avoid sprinklers overall. In warmer weather, cows spent more time at the feed bunk when it had sprinklers (on average 19 to 21min/24h for each 1°C increase in T), likely for heat abatement benefits. Compared with the control, sprinklers resulted in 0.3 to 0.7°C lower body temperature from 1300 to 1500h and 1700 to 2000h overall and attenuated the rise in this measure on warmer days (for each 10°C increase in T, body temperature increased by on average 0.5 to 0.7°C with sprinklers vs. 1.6°C without). Sprinkler access also resulted in milk yield that was, on average, 3.3 to 3.7kg/24h higher than in the control treatment. In this hot and dry climate, 1.3L/min cooled cows more efficiently than 4.9L/min, as the lower flow rate achieved equivalent reduction in body temperature and increase in milk yield relative to no spray, despite using 73% less water.