Farmers install misting system and carry out extra checks on cattle amid heatwave

·3-min read
Cattle on a Yorkshire farm being sprayed with a fine mist of water as they cool off in the UK heatwave (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)
Cattle on a Yorkshire farm being sprayed with a fine mist of water as they cool off in the UK heatwave (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)

A misting fan system to cool cattle and extra checks on animals in the midday sun are among the ways farmers have tried to keep their livestock comfortable in the record-breaking hot weather.

One farmer said working in the blistering temperatures this week has been “quite draining”, while another described his farm as “starting to look like a desert”.

Paul Tompkins, a dairy farmer based near Pocklington in Yorkshire, said the mechanical fans he has had in his barns for a few years had become “like hairdryers” in the hot weather, so he adapted them with hoses to spray a fine mist of water over his 300-strong herd.

He said he had been inspired to set up the water-spraying system after seeing similar approaches in hot countries including Israel, the US and Italy.

Cattle on a Yorkshire farm being sprayed with a fine mist of water as they cool off in the UK heatwave (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)
Cattle on a Yorkshire farm being sprayed with a fine mist of water as they cool off in the UK heatwave (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)

Despite his concerns in first using the cooling method on Monday, due to the sensitivity of the animals when it comes to water, he hailed it as a success.

“I was a bit sceptical and thought ‘they’re all going to run a mile’ but actually the reverse has happened in that they’re competing with one another to get underneath the sprinkler.

“It does cover quite a few of them, so they’re all getting their turn.”

He said he was happy to be able to take some action to cool the animals in such heat.

“When you’ve got animals, you’re always doing something to make them feel comfortable, so when we’ve got a forecast like this or we’re stood here in this baking heat, at least we feel like we’re doing something to help relieve them,” he said.

Farmer Paul Tompkins adapted mechanical fans with hoses to spray a fine mist of water over his herd (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)
Farmer Paul Tompkins adapted mechanical fans with hoses to spray a fine mist of water over his herd (Paul Tompkins/PA) (PA Media)

David Barton, a beef farmer with around 200 cattle based in Gloucestershire, said he had increased checks on the animals for possible heatstroke from once or twice daily to three times.

He said: “We make sure that our groups of cattle have got access to really good shade all day and also, just as simple as making sure they’ve got access to clean, fresh water, and we’re checking the cattle three times a day.

“They find the shade – this morning they were in a small river, in the shade keeping cool. They naturally draw to those areas. We’re beef cattle so they’re not coming in for milking or anything like that, they’re outside the entire time.”

In terms of concerns, top of his list is the grass his cows eat.

He has started giving some winter feed to his cattle, warning that “fairly significant rainfall” is needed soon to help the grass grow again.

He said: “Right now it’s starting to look like a desert, it really doesn’t like this hot temperature. It’s not designed to grow in this sort of heat.

“The unknown is the biggest issue I have right now. When will I have some proper grass again for my cattle?”

Sharing those concerns, Mr Tompkins said: “Come this winter, when I haven’t got as much feed for my cows, I’ve got two options really  – have less cows, or buy some (feed) from somewhere less. Both things are going to cost me money.”

He said working in the intense heat has been “quite draining”, but that he and his team had adapted to a “continental working pattern” with earlier starts and finishes so they are out of the sun when it is hottest.

The National Farmers’ Union (NFU) said warm weather in recent weeks has mainly affected farms in central, eastern and southern parts of the country.

The organisation warned that the lack of rainfall presents challenges, with water for irrigated crops becoming restricted and crops which would normally not need irrigation, such as sugar beet, demanding water.

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