Be mindful of heat stress to maintain stocker calf gains

Shade should be available during periods of heat stress


Dr. Jeff Lehmkuhler, University of Kentucky

via Beef Magazine - Jun 15, 2022


As I am writing this, bluegrass has flowered, and I’ve seen fescue plants with flowers emerging. This spring has been a bit cool slowing grass growth, but warmer temperatures will certainly begin to kick grass growth into high gear within the next couple of weeks. Precipitation and soil moisture continues to be a struggle in the western half the United States as shown in the Monthly Drought Outlook figure from the National Drought Monitoring website. These continued drought conditions will continue to limit forage growth in these regions.


Forage availability is a key driver of stocker calf performance followed by forage quality. As we move through the spring months and begin to see temperatures increase, forage growth slows. Previous research demonstrates that the photosynthesis of plants is negatively impacted by increasing temperatures. Photosynthetic rates of tall fescue can be reduced when temperatures reach 86F/77F degrees Fahrenheit, day/night. Areas in Kentucky had eight days in May during 2021 that had daytime high temperatures of 86 or higher. Several days in June, July and August are normally going to be 86 F or warmer. These warmer temperatures slow forage growth of our perennial cool-season forages. More importantly, research has demonstrated that soil surface temperatures can have a larger effect on photosynthesis than air temperature.


Close grazing or mowing exposes more soil to direct sunlight increasing soil surface temperature. Dr. Teutsch’s research with tall fescue at the Princeton Extension and Research Center demonstrated that clipping forage weekly to 1” versus 4.5” height weekly increased plant crown sensor daily maximum temperature by 10 degrees Fahrenheit. Close clipping led to an increase in warm-season annual forages such as crabgrass due to the temperature stress on the cool-season forage. Reducing stocking density or implementing a managed grazing system to better manage forage residual heights may help cool-season forages be more persistent...


more, including U.S. Monthly Drought Outlook map