Heat Stress – It’s Not Just About the Cattle
By Jill J. Dunkel
Hot weather is tough on cattle, but it’s tough on people as well.
That’s the message Dr. Michelle Calvo-Lorenzo, Elanco’s Chief Animal Welfare Officer, wants to stress during the hottest part of the summer. Although feed yards are doing their best to keep cattle cool, it’s important to remember employees.
“Just as we take precautions for cattle, we also need to take precautions for ourselves and our horses,” she said.
Calvo-Lorenzo encouraged training employees to watch for heat stress in people. “We think about our job as it pertains to cattle care, but we also need to think about our people. Help workers recognize the signs of heat stress, and make sure employees don’t wait until it’s too late.”
Include the people perspective in the yard’s planning, and develop protocols where employees check in on one other. Monitor the weather before processing and set up meetings the day before to check the weather and set the schedule.
She encouraged managers to help employees understand why this is important. “Explain how and why people and cattle are different to emphasize effective ways to avoid heat stress and to cool off.”
Make sure the training is easy to understand for all workers, using visuals or hands-on approaches to help coach employees, especially if English isn’t their first language. She encouraged employers to empower workers with the responsibility and the tools to do their job, especially if they need to modify protocols for the summer.
“Nobody likes change, but in times of heat or cold stress, sometimes we have to do things differently,” she said.
Often some of the same steps used to mitigate heat stress for cattle can also help employees, like working earlier hours and adjusting schedules so people work during more comfortable conditions.
“Typically we talk a lot about the cattle perspective, but we can’t lose sight that we need to talk about people too,” Calvo-Lorenzo said. She also stressed not to forget the equine partners.
“Check on the horses. Work with your veterinarian to learn how to cool down an overheated horse. The summer is a very stressful time for the horses as well. They are our partners in caring for cattle.”