Major advances associated with environmental effects on dairy cattle

R. J. Collier, G. E. Dahl, M. J. Vanbaale

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

449 Scopus citations


It has long been known that season of the year has major impacts on dairy animal performance measures including growth, reproduction, and lactation. Additionally, as average production per cow has doubled, the metabolic heat output per animal has increased substantially rendering animals more susceptible to heat stress. This, in turn, has altered cooling and housing requirements for cattle. Substantial progress has been made in the last quarter-century in delineating the mechanisms by which thermal stress and photoperiod influence performance of dairy animals. Acclimation to thermal stress is now identified as a homeorhetic process under endocrine control. The process of acclimation occurs in 2 phases (acute and chronic) and involves changes in secretion rate of hormones as well as receptor populations in target tissues. The time required to complete both phases is weeks rather than days. The opportunity may exist to modify endocrine status of animals and improve their resistance to heat and cold stress. New estimates of genotype × environment interactions support use of recently available molecular and genomics tools to identify the genetic basis of heat-stress sensitivity and tolerance. Improved understanding of environmental effects on nutrient requirements has resulted in diets for dairy animals during different weather conditions. Demonstration that estrus behavior is adversely affected by heat stress has led to increased use of timed insemination schemes during the warm summer months to improve conception rates by discarding the need to detect estrus. Studies evaluating the effects of heat stress on embryonic survival support use of cooling during the immediate postbreeding period and use of embryo transfer to improve pregnancy rates. Successful cooling strategies for lactating dairy cows are based on maximizing available routes of heat exchange, convection, conduction, radiation, and evaporation. Areas in dairy operations in which cooling systems have been used to enhance cow comfort, improve milk production, reproductive efficiency, and profit include both housing and milking facilities. Currently, air movement (fans), wetting (soaking) the cow's body surface, high pressure mist (evaporation) to cool the air in the cows' environment, and facilities designed to minimize the transfer of solar radiation are used for heat abatement. Finally, improved understanding of photoperiod effects on cattle has allowed producers to maximize beneficial effects of photoperiod length while minimizing negative effects.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1244-1253
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of dairy science
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2006
Externally publishedYes


  • Adaptation
  • Environment
  • Heat stress
  • Photoperiod

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • Genetics


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