STARR, S.C. (WSPA) – When hot, summer weather settles in, we want to be sure that we and our animals stay cool. What if your business is dependent on your animals?

Iris Barham is a family co-owner of Milky Way Farm outside of Starr, South Carolina. 

“Weather matters to us 365 days a year, so a decision that I may make today can affect me six months from now,” Barham explained.

The start of summer means paying extra attention to the herd of 200 cows on the dairy farm. When you look for relief from the heat, the cows. 

“They only sweat about 10% of what humans do. So when it comes to getting rid of their body heat when they’re really hot, they will pant a lot like dogs,” Barham said. 

Standing in the shade under a tree is one way to stay cool, but there are other ways to keep the cows cool on the farm. Barham said it doesn’t even have to be that hot before the cows really feel it.

“80 degrees is kind of the key marker of when our cows start feeling heat stress,” Barham explained. “We make sure they have plenty of fresh cool water to help cool their bodies internally. We have fans that you see up in the barn there, they’re on thermostats and they kick on about 78 degrees. And honestly when it’s really hot, they’re up in that barn and not on the pasture because we’ve designed that barn to be very environmentally friendly for this very hot South Carolina heat.” 

Keeping the herd happy and productive is critical to success. 

If they’re not comfortable, they eat less, dropping milk production by 10-25%.  

“Things you can watch for them to know how they’re handling it is are they chewing their cud. It looks like they’re chewing bubblegum. That’s a good sign they’re happy. If you don’t see panting and they’re chewing their cud, they’re pretty comfortable.” 

Barham noted that even the type of cow becomes important. 

“We do milk Jerseys here in South Carolina because they are much more heat tolerant than the black and white cow because that black does attract a lot of heat,” he explained. 

We want nice weather for our summer activities, but dairy farmers (and their cows) won’t mind if you root for a few more of those summer showers. 

Rain cools the herd and is needed to keep the pasture green, which means better feeding. 

“We’re pretty brown for the beginning of June, and it make me nervous that we’re going to have a really hot and dry summer. But at the end of the day, all I can use is the technology, the education, and the family experience that we have to make it through another season if the weather doesn’t come in our favor,” he said. 

Find local dairy farms that allow visits below: