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Energy Commission Grant Studying How to Help Cows Stay Cool

Heat stress can cause cows to produce less milk

California Energy Commission

The University of California, Davis, is testing more energy efficient technologies on how to keep dairy cows cool in the heat.

The UC Davis Department of Animal Science and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center are researching the cooling techniques as part of a four-year, $1 million grant from the Energy Commission to help reduce energy and water use in California's dairy industry.

Milk is California's most valued agricultural commodity with $9.4 billion in sales in 2014. Heat stress can cause cows to produce less milk, and also cause fertility issues and sometimes death.

Traditional cooling methods, which include sprinkling the cows with water and using high-velocity fans, use a lot of water and electricity. About 11,000 gallons of water is used per cow per year, said Theresa Pistochini, engineering manager for the Western Cooling Efficiency Center.

Conduction and convection cooling are the methods being tested. They are expected to reduce water use up to 86 percent and electricity use up to 38 percent compared to conventional methods.

With conduction cooling, cooling mats and bedding are placed on the floor where the cows lie. Water flowing through the mats is cooled using an evaporative chiller. Convection cooling uses a high-efficiency evaporative cooler that directs cool air through a duct and onto the cows when they are feeding or lying down.

Data from the research will help determine which technology will be demonstrated later at a large-scale dairy in Tulare.