Innovative cooling strategies: Dairy cow responses and water and energy use

J Dairy Sci. 2020 Jun;103(6):5440-5454. doi: 10.3168/jds.2019-17351. Epub 2020 Apr 3.


Producers in the western United States commonly use spray water at the feed bunk and fans in the lying area to mitigate heat stress in dairy cows. Often, spray water cycles on and off with fans turning on when a preset air temperature is reached. Although this method can be effective, innovative strategies are needed to reduce water and energy use. We evaluated the effectiveness and resource efficiency of 4 cooling treatments on behavioral and physiological responses in dairy cows housed in a freestall barn: (1) conductive cooling in which mats with recirculating evaporatively cooled water were buried under sand bedding (Mat; activated at 18.9°C); (2) targeted convective cooling in which evaporatively cooled air was directed toward the cows through fabric ducts with nozzles at both the feed bunk and lying areas (Targeted Air; activated at 22°C); (3) evaporative cooling, with spray water in the feed area and fan over the freestalls (Baseline; activated at 22°C); and (4) evaporative cooling with half the amount of spray water used in the Baseline and the fan moved to the feed bunk (Optimized Baseline; activated at 22°C). In a crossover design, 8 groups of cows (4/group) producing an average (± standard deviation) of 37.5 ± 4.5 kg/d of milk were tested for 3 d per treatment. For ethical reasons, beginning at 30°C, the Mat treatment was supplemented with Baseline cooling and the Targeted Air treatment had spray water at the Optimized Baseline rate. We recorded body temperature, posture, and location within the pen every 3 min for 24 h/d, and respiration rates every 30 min daily from 1000 to 1900 h. Daily air temperature averaged (±SD) 26.3 ± 7.1°C during 24 h and 33.3 ± 4°C from 1000 to 1900 h. We used pairwise comparisons of each treatment to Baseline to evaluate response variables. Milk production did not differ across treatments, nor did time spent lying (51 ± 2%/d on average). Respiration rates did not differ across treatments overall (61 ± 3 breaths/min), but on an hourly basis, cows in the Mat treatment had a significantly higher rate than those in Baseline, at h 10 and 11 (70 vs. 58-59 breaths/min). Body temperature averaged 38.7 ± 0.05°C across treatments and was 0.2 to 0.3°C higher in the Mat treatment than in Baseline at h 10, 11, 20, 21, and 22. These results collectively indicate that the Mat treatment did not effectively reduce indicators of heat load compared with Baseline. In contrast, Targeted Air and Optimized Baseline were both effective but differed in aspects of efficiency. Targeted Air used the least amount of water but the most energy of all options tested. In conclusion, more efficient heat abatement options were identified, particularly an Optimized Baseline strategy, which cut water use in half, required the same amount of energy as the Baseline, and maintained similar physiological and behavioral responses in cows.

Keywords: conductive cooling; heat load; heat stress; spray water; targeted convective cooling.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Veterinary
  • Evaluation Study

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bedding and Linens
  • Body Temperature* / physiology
  • Cattle
  • Cold Temperature*
  • Dairying / methods*
  • Female
  • Heat Stress Disorders / prevention & control
  • Heat Stress Disorders / veterinary*
  • Lactation
  • Milk
  • Respiratory Rate
  • Water


  • Water