Arizona Farmer Beats the Heat for Cows

  • Article
  • 2 min read August 7, 2017

The thermometer in Justin Stewart’s truck read that it was 125 degrees the other day at his dairy farm in Mesa, Arizona.

Then he clarified: The official reading, recorded at the local airport, had it at 120.

Either way, it’s more sweat than sweater weather for dairy farmers such as Stewart, who milk cows in some of the hottest climates in the U.S.

The farm, Arizona Dairy Company, has been in business since 1973, and dealing with extreme heat comes with the arid territory. The family farm milks 6,500 cows three times a day, and making sure each cow is not impacted by the heat is job No. 1.

“We treat every animal as though it is our only animal,” said Wyatt Myers, a manager at the farm.

The dairy has a variety of measures in place that create a comfortable environment for the cows that are housed in more than 50 corrals. Stewart said a combination of fans, water misters and shade structures are featured in each corral, and this can mean as much as a 30-degree difference for his cows. And a whole lot of relief.

After a slight pause to do the math, Stewart figures he has at least 1,500 fans at the farm. The fans, either 36 or 48 inches in diameter, are controlled by a thermostat that kicks in once the temperature rises above 80 degrees, which is pretty much every minute of every day this time of year.

“We don’t get much relief,” Stewart said. “Our nighttime temperatures are around 85 or 90 degrees. It’s even been 100 at 10 o’clock at night.”

Each fan is equipped with a water nozzle that releases a stream of water in front of the blades to create a fine mist of spray that descends on the cows’ backs to lower their body temperature.

Like humans, cows must remain hydrated in the extreme heat. Stewart said the summer months means increased water consumption with some cows drinking as much as 50 gallons a day. He and his team assure the entire herd has access to plenty of clean water – emphasis on clean. He said high temperatures can promote algae growth in the troughs, which is why his employees regularly scrub them to ensure the water is as pristine as possible.

That level of detail is what keeps Stewart’s cows healthy and content, something he says comes second nature to dairy farmers, especially when the thermometer hits triple digits.

“It’s another level of commitment around April because we know the heat is coming,” Stewart said. “We go through every fan and every mister and we make sure everything is functioning perfectly for when the heat arrives. We don’t want to be caught without the proper cooling for our animals. 

“Our motto is ‘clean, cool and dry’ and when we achieve these three goals, our cows are able to comfortably produce milk.”