The role of sensors in diagnosing & alleviating heat stress

Author: Iain Dalton (IfA) - October 10, 2017

Heat stress has long been recognised as a problem in Mediterranean countries, but global warming has increased its importance in all European dairy farms. The number of days with temperatures over 30°C in southern UK has doubled in last 20 years. Heat stress and subclinical effects can result in reduced output and suboptimal herd fertility, and can be seen with ambient temperatures as low as 20°C.

Automated, sensor controlled ventilation in roof and walls on Dutch dairy farms.

Increased natural or forced ventilation can be used to mitigate the challenge of hot summers but misters and even refrigeration may be necessary. Rumination sensors can be used to test the efficacy of this action on individual cows, and even highlight a problem in the first place.

The management of this ventilation however must be considered and decisions required for its effective management should not be made from subjective human criteria but from accurate data derived from embedded sensors throughout the barn which integrate the data with humidity data – and produce a Temperature Humidity Index. Such systems then activate fans and/or inlet manifolds so the temperature is kept close to optimum for health and milk production. Such systems can be retro fitted to existing buildings or incorporated in new cow barns.

As temperatures are forecast to rise, the modern cow manager will have the ability and technology to incorporate accurate sensors in the cow barns to ensure cows will not suffer heat stress and have health and production compromised.

Sensor controlled fans in Dutch dairy farm. The fans are programmed to turn on at higher speeds as the temperature rises.