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How To Cool Your Cow: Researchers Test New Methods To Protect Cows From Heat

Paul Fortunato / UC Davis

Dairy cattle cool off from the summer heat at the Dairy Teaching and Research Facility at UC Davis.

Paul Fortunato / UC Davis

During California heat waves, dairy farms use a lot water and energy to keep their cows cool. UC Davis researchers are trying out new techniques that use less resources.

Over in the UC Davis dairy barn, scientists try to find a cooling method that’s just as effective as spraying the cows with sprinklers and using fans.

Theresa Pistochini with the Western Cooling Efficiency Center says the traditional method uses 11,000 gallons of water per cow per year.

“It’s ridiculous. It’s a lot of water," Pistochini says. "So, the water use is massive and there’s a lot of concern with the amount of water being used in agriculture and how can we reduce it.”

She says heat stress in cows also affects milk production, and spraying the cows can cause health problems. She says that's costing farmers nationwide $800 million a year.

Instead, her team tried placing a pad under the cows’ bedding that has chilled water running through it. They also designed a swamp cooler that blasts air over areas where the cows eat and lie down.

Researchers stand over heat exchange mats, which are part of a project at the UC Davis Dairy Teaching and Research Facility focused on cooling cows more efficiently. (Paul Fortunato / UC Davis)

The group says these new methods reduce water by up to 86 percent and electricity up to 38 percent.

The data still need to be analyzed, but Pistochini says at first look, the new techiques appear to be working.

 agriculturedairy farmersenvironment

Sally Schilling

Reporter/Podcast Producer

Sally Schilling is a Davis native and a graduate of the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. She has reported on redwood poachers robbing national forests in Humboldt County and the dangers of melting tropical glaciers in the Peruvian Andes.  Read Full Bio 

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