U.S. Department of Agriculture: Agricultural Research Service, Lincoln, Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Published in Int J Biometeorol (2005) 49:285–296. DOI 10.1007/s00484-004-0250-2


Heat stress in feedlot cattle causes reduced performance, and in the most severe cases, death of the animals, thus causing the loss of millions of dollars in revenue to the cattle industry. A study was designed to evaluate dynamics of thermoregulation and feeding activities when feeder cattle were exposed to simulated heat waves, in comparison with repeated sinusoidal hot and thermoneutral environments. Nine beef steers were randomly assigned to an individual pen in one of three environmental chambers. Each chamber was subjected to each of three temperature regimes (Heatwave simulation from Rockport, Mo., 1995, Heatwave simulation from Columbia, Mo., 1999, and Controlled heat stress treatment of 32±7°C) for a period of 18 days, according to a Latin square treatment design, with a 10-day thermoneutral period (18±7°C) separating treatment periods. Respiration rate, core body temperature, heat production, feed intake, and feeding behavior were measured on each animal for the duration of the experiment. Differences were found in all treatments for all parameters except feeding behavior. It was shown that the two simulated heat waves elicited very different thermoregulatory responses. Based on these results the heat wave centered at Rockport, Mo. in 1995 was devastating because the animals were not acclimated to hot conditions, thus causing an acute response to heat stress. The responses of cattle to conditions at Columbia, Mo. showed some acclimation to heat prior to the peak stress days, and therefore a dampened response was seen. It appears the extreme conditions at Columbia, Mo., 1999 were made severe by environmental conditions not simulated during this study (low wind speed and intensive solar radiation). Overall, it was determined while a cyclic heat stress treatment is a representative model to test heat stress in cattle, further heat stress experiments should be conducted in an actual feedlot.