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West’s Heat Wave Expected to Curtail Milk Production

July 3, 2013
By: Catherine Merlo, Dairy Today Western and Online Editor
cows in freestall with fans
Fans in the freestalls help cows cope with the heat at Joey Airoso's California dairy.  
 
 

California’s dairy cows surviving triple-digit temperatures; gradual cooling trend forecast for this weekend.

California dairy producers say it’s too soon to tell how this week’s record-breaking heat will pan out, but a drop in milk production is likely.

"We’ll be down for sure, maybe 10-12 lb. per cow on average," says Dino Giacomazzi, whose dairy is located near Hanford, Calif.

Temperatures there have hit 110 F this week, Giacomazzi says. Today’s forecast is for 108 F.

Record-breaking heat will continue to affect much of the western U.S. today, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). Temperatures will again soar into triple digits across much of the Southwest and even farther north into the valleys of the Northern Rockies and Intermountain West.

So far, milk production at Joey Airoso’s Pixley, Calif., dairy, where he milks 1,800 cows, is holding steady, but he expects "a pretty good drop" in milk output as scorching temperatures continue.

Joey Airoso
Joey Airoso   vertical

"You can determine your milk production by how much the cows are eating, and they left quite a bit in the manger this morning," Airoso says.

Temperatures in Tulare County, where Airoso farms, are expected to reach 112 F today. Airoso’s dairy lies about 40 miles southeast of Giacomazzi’s operation. Their dairies lie in the nation's No. 1 milk shed.

Farther north, near Fresno, Calif., Charlie de Groot is pleased that the milk output of his 2,600-cow herd has only dropped about 3 lb. per cow.

"The high temperatures and humidity of the last two days will show up in the milk tank, but the [heat wave's effect] has been pretty minimal," says De Groot. "We’ve tried to minimize our losses by installing extra fans and soakers in the milking parlor and the wash pen area."

This week’s heat wave hasn’t reached July 2006’s severity when a 10-day spell of triple-digit temperatures in California's Central Valley killed an estimated 16,500 dairy cows. Milk output fell by as much as 40% as temperatures rose to 113 F with unusually high humidity. Many areas experienced 100-degree heat or higher for at least 14 consecutive days.

"We’ve learned a lot since 2006 and have added a lot of technology on the dairy, with more cooling and shade," Giacomazzi says. "Health-wise, the cows are doing just fine."

An upper trough moving inland from the Pacific should finally bring some relief from scorching heat this weekend. "All locations across the West should see a gradual cooling trend as the upper trough helps break down the persistent ridge that has been locked in place over the Western U.S. for the past several days," NWS says.

Temperatures should fall into the 90s in Central California beginning this weekend, NWS predicts.

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