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State Dairy Cows Affected By Heat
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Recent hot temperatures have slowed milk production around the state, making it a little difficult for Mississippi dairy farmers to celebrate June Dairy Month.
Dr. Reuben Moore, dairy specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the ideal temperature for dairy cattle is 55 degrees. Recent temperatures in the 90s have stressed some herds.
"When temperatures reach about 85 degrees, milk production declines," Moore said. "If temperatures don't drop at night, cows have difficulty recovering from the day's high heat."
Cows produce heat when they digest food, a result of fermentation in their stomachs. When temperatures rise, cows eat less to prevent themselves from getting too hot. They produce less milk as a result.
Fans, sprinklers and shades help many herds reduce heat stress. Summer diets should include less fiber to reduce the heat produced in digestion. Even five degrees makes a significant difference in milk production.
"The more you manage heat stress, the more the cows will eat and the more milk they will give in the summertime," Moore said.
Despite the heat, the dairy industry is big business in Mississippi. Last year, 74 million gallons of milk were produced in the state. Dairy farmers received $90 million from the sale of this milk, Moore said.
Mississippi dairy cows gave an average of 1,570 gallons of milk last year, or seven gallons a day. Each Mississippian drank about 23 gallons of it in 1997.
The number of dairy farms and cows continues to drop in the state, but as of April, Mississippi had 398 commercial dairy farms and four processors serving 45,000 milk cows.
Dr. Bill Herndon, agricultural economist with MSU's Extension Service, said April milk prices fell 80 cents to $12.01 per hundredweight, after a 51 cent drop in March. Butter and cheese prices increased 10 to 15 percent in May, making the short-term outlook positive for the summer months.
"Almost ideal spring weather fueled increased milk output per cow, resulting in excessive amounts of milk," Herndon said. "Demand for fluid milk is declining with the start of the summer break from school and with warm weather dampening dairy product consumption."
Summertime causes milk production to decline, but milk prices are responding by moving higher. Herndon forecasted this will continue through the rest of summer and early fall.