Is reticular temperature a useful indicator of heat stress in dairy cattle?
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The present study investigated whether reticular temperature (RT) in dairy cattle is a useful indicator of heat stress considering the effects of milk yield and water intake (WI). In total, 28 Holstein-Friesian dairy cows raised on 3 farms in Lower Saxony, Germany, were studied from March to December 2013. During the study, RT and barn climate parameters (air temperature, relative humidity) were measured continuously and individual milk yield was recorded daily. Both the daily temperature-humidity index (THI) and the daily median RT per cow were calculated. Additionally, the individual WI (amount and frequency) of 10 cows during 100 d of the study was recorded on 1 farm. Averaged over all farms, daily THI ranged between 35.4 and 78.9 with a mean (±standard deviation) of 60.2 (±8.7). Dairy cows were on average (±standard deviation) 110.9 d in milk (±79.3) with a mean (±standard deviation) milk yield of 35.2 kg/d (±9.1). The RT was affected by THI, milk yield, days in milk, and WI. Up to a THI threshold of 65, RT remained constant at 39.2°C. Above this threshold, RT increased to 39.3°C and further to 39.4°C when THI ≥70. The correlation between THI ≥70 and RT was 0.22, whereas the coefficient ranged between r = −0.08 to +0.06 when THI <70. With increasing milk yield, RT decreased slightly from 39.3°C (<30 kg/d) to 39.2°C (≥40 kg/d). For daily milk yields of ≥40 kg, the median RT and daily milk yield were correlated at r = −0.18. The RT was greater when dairy cows yielded ≥30 kg/d and THI ≥70 (39.5°C) compared with milk yields <30 kg and THI <70 (39.3°C). The WI, which averaged (±standard deviation) 11.5 l (±5.7) per drinking bout, caused a mean decrease in RT of 3.2°C and was affected by the amount of WI (r = 0.60). After WI, it took up to 2 h until RT reached the initial level before drinking. In conclusion, RT increased when the THI threshold of 65 was exceeded. A further increase was noted when THI ≥70. Nevertheless, the effects of WI and milk yield have to be considered carefully when RT is used to detect hyperthermia in dairy cattle. © 2016 American Dairy Science Association