Heat tolerance in cattle for welfare, performance

Farm Forum

Beef producers care about heat stress adaptability in their cattle, out of concern for their comfort as well as economics.

That is why the American Angus Association’s research priorities committee set a high priority on learning more about heat tolerance in cattle. The Angus Foundation funded the white paper as part of its commitment to further research initiatives.

The comprehensive literature review and analysis by Dr. Megan M. Rolf, Oklahoma State University assistant professor and state beef extension specialist, “Genetic Basis for Heat Tolerance in Cattle,” is available at

Rolf breaks down heat stress from the basics of normal dissipation of heat that maintains comfort to environmental risk factors that contribute to heat stress such as the temperature humidity index (THI) and individual traits such as hide color, ability to shed winter hair coat, temperament and respiratory health.

“Planning ahead for heat stress mitigation and making necessary adjustments before the onset of symptoms can improve both performance and the well-being of the animal,” she says.

The mitigation strategy should reflect the production conditions, whether it is pasture or feedlot, and some of these strategies will be easier to implement in some production systems than others, Rolf notes.

Still, she lists seven potential management interventions to help cattle in all environments, and previews an industry-leading decision support tool with a “Cattle Comfort Index,” currently available only in Oklahoma.

Rolf suggests a selection index based on response to THI challenges.

“Genetic variation could be exploited to further increase thermotolerance within the beef industry and expand the set of tools available to producers who operate in adverse environments,” Rolf says.

Her summary lays out a practical course that can help address concerns shared by cattle, producers and beef consumers.

“Research has always been a high priority for the Angus Foundation,” says Milford Jenkins, Angus Foundation president. “We’re excited about offering these additional research white papers — for the educational benefit of our supporters, Angus breeders and beef cattle industry leaders. Our goal is to help provide them the information, tools and solutions, to ultimately save them money and enhance their beef cattle operations’ economic profitability.”

This is the second sponsored white paper for 2015, and the Angus Foundation is committed to investing more research dollars in areas where Angus breeders and their customers stand to benefit.