By Caroline Stocks

Sweaty cows could help beef producers beat the heat

Breeding sweatier beef cattle could help producers manage the impacts of heat stress and mitigate losses associated with rising global temperatures.

Thermal stress is a major challenge in beef cattle production, particularly in subtropical regions where soaring temperatures take a significant toll on animals.

Almost $370m is estimated to be lost each year due to heat stress, which can reduce feed intake and cause production levels to plummet. And with increasing temperatures due to global warming posing a risk of heat stress in other regions, experts warn those losses could climb even higher in future.

In a bid to address the issue, researchers from the University of Florida and North Carolina State University have investigated how the thermotolerance of cattle might be increased through genetic selection.

Predicting sweatiness

In a study involving 2401 Brangus cattle — a cross of Brahman and Angus cows — from two commercial ranches in Florida, scientists focused on animals’ sweat gland traits, which are crucial for regulating internal heat.

As well as measuring physical factors that help animals manage heat stress, including sweat gland area, depth and length, the team of researchers also genotyped the animals and used software to predict how many of those traits were inherited.

The study revealed that a moderate amount of variation in sweating ability is genetic, meaning producers can select sweatier cattle based on genetic markers.

Writing in the Journal of Animal Science and Technology, the scientists said selecting cattle based on their ability to sweat could help producers breed herds that are productive in hotter climates.

“Understanding and utilising genetic traits that confer better heat tolerance is a proactive approach to managing the impacts of climate change on livestock farming,’ they added.

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