Hot cows cost California more than cool cows, which is why UC Davis is finding new ways to chill out cattle.
Engineering Manager at the Western Cooling Efficiency Center Theresa Pistochini and UC Davis Department of Animal Science Professor Cassandra Tucker are working with graduate students to find more energy efficient technologies to keep heat-stressed cows cooler.
“The California Energy Commission found $800 million to $1 billion dollars are wasted because of heat-stressed cows,” said the professor at Wednesday’s cow event. Heat-stress can cause low production, fertility issues and even death for cows, she said.
Off of Dairy Road in Davis, the pungent smell of methane is inescapable. Everyone wears plastic covers over their shoes to prevent cross-contamination. New technologies are being tested and include two approaches: a cooling mat and air conditioning — sort of. Both new methods and traditional methods were set up June 12 for cows to rotate out of and testing finished this week. Graduate students checked the temperature of cows every three minutes as part of the trial.
On one side of the stalls, cold water runs through rubber mats placed under feeding beds and cows lay on top of them to cool down.
“It’s like the opposite of a heating blanket,” said Paul Fortunato, the outreach manager for WCEC.
On the other side is a large evaporator cooler that works with a fan to blow cooled water through vents onto the cows, similar to air conditioning.
“Sprayers and massive fans are typical (cooling methods) but they’re not consistent,” Fortunato explained. “Sometimes it just spreads gunk all over the cows and doesn’t actually cool them down.”
These new methods at UC Davis are designed to reduce water use by up to 86 percent and electricity use by as much as 38 percent over conventional methods.
Researchers videotaped cows day and night and now have months of footage to process. Though they’re not sure what method works bests, they’re confident new methods are working at least as well as traditional fan and spraying methods, said Pistochini, the lead researcher.
Milk is the most valued agricultural commodity in California, with $9.4 billion in retail sales in 2014. Roughly one in every five dairy cows in the nation is in California.
“The process of rumination, where cows ferment their food, produces a lot of heat, as does milk production itself,” Tucker stated. “When the outside temperatures also rise, it’s a challenge for the animal in how she’s going to try to keep cool. This project is trying to reduce the energy and water use associated with that to help both the cows and the dairy producers.”
The project is part of a four-year, $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help improve water and energy efficiency in California’s dairy industry. The data being collected now will help determine which technology the team should use to pilot at a commercial dairy in a future phase of the project.
Contact Jenice Tupolo at 530-406-6239.
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