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


Document Type


Date of this Version



Published in Livestock Science 105 (2006) 57– 68.


Heat stress in cattle results in millions of dollars in lost revenue each year due to production losses, and in extreme cases, death. Death losses are more likely to result from animals vulnerable to heat stress. A study was conducted to determine risk factors for heat stress in feedlot heifers. Over two consecutive summers, a total of 256 feedlot heifers (32/ breed/ year) of four breeds were observed. As a measure of stress, respiration rates and panting scores were taken twice daily (morning and afternoon) on a random sample of 10 heifers/ breed. Weights, condition scores, and temperament scores were taken on 28-day intervals during the experiment. Health history from birth to slaughter was available for every animal used in this study. It was found that at temperatures above 25 8C, dark-hided animals were 25% more stressed than light-colored; a history of respiratory pneumonia increased stress level by 10.5%; each level of fatness increased stress level by approximately 10%; and excitable animals had a 3.2% higher stress level than calm animals. Not only did the stress level increase with these risk factors, but average daily gain was reduced. The Charolais cattle gained significantly more than all other breeds of cattle tested. Calm cattle gained 5% more than excitable cattle. Finally, cattle treated for pneumonia gained approximately 8% slower than non-treated cattle. The results of this study have not only revealed heat stress risk factors of breed (color), condition score (fatness), temperament, and health history (treated or not treated for pneumonia), but have also shown the effectiveness of using respiration rate as an indicator of heat stress.