Dairy cow in pasture.
Updated: December 6, 2023
By Avery Polak , and Fabiana F Cardoso

Strategies to Reduce Stress

A chart that displays the signs of heat stress in animals.
Source: Adapted from Burgos Zimbelman and Collier, 2011

Dairy cattle can be affected in many ways by various types of stressors in their lifetime. Some of these stressors include temperature, living conditions, feeding management and others (Villamediana, 2022). The stress can cause a cow to have a decreased milk production, changes in body weight, increased risk of infections, diseases, and others. Stress in severe situations can even lead to death. Some signs of stress in dairy cattle include physical changes such as decreased dry matter intake, milk production, milk quality, increased respiration and heart rate, weak or tense muscles and behavioral changes such as restlessness (Nicholas, 2022). Most stressors can be prevented or minimized by proper management techniques applied on farms.

Weather-Induced Stress

Body scoring chart
Source: Elanco Animal Health

Extreme temperatures, can cause stress in dairy cattle. Typically, mild heat stress sets in at around 72°F with 50% humidity. High-producing cows, due to increased feed intake and heightened metabolic activity, can face heat stress even in well-ventilated barns when the air temperature gets as low as 68°F. A useful measurement to gauge whether or not a cow will become stressed is the Temperature Humidity Index (THI). Keeping cows in the shade as much as possible helps to reduce heat stress. Ventilation is also essential to minimizing heat stress; tunnel ventilation and cross ventilation are particularly useful (Armstrong, 2023). Farmers can also utilize fans in the barn to increase air circulation. Cows should be sprinkled with water to keep their body temperatures lower. Lastly, it is vital that cows have access to drinking water to allow the cow to better regulate body temperature.

Living Condition Stress

The way dairy cattle are raised significantly impacts their daily stress levels.


  • Increases heat stress.
  • Reduces feed intake.
  • Increases competition.
  • Prevents proper rest.

Feed Management:

  • Unbalanced diets leads to a nutritional deficiency.
  • Excessive feed causes overweight issues, high BCS score.
  • Increases risk of infection and metabolic disorders.
  • It is crucial to make gradual changes to avoid abrupt adjustments.

Cow`s Comfort:

  • Comfort is essential to prevent agitation and stress in cows.
  • Consideration of bedding and flooring types is vital for maximal comfort.

Reducing Stress:

It is important to consider all the daily stressors that may affect dairy cattle while creating a management plan. With a proper management plan, most stressors can be reduced or eliminated altogether. This plan accounts for temperatures, transportation, living environments, feed, etc. By being prepared and preventing stress, cows will remain healthy and efficient.(Villamediana, 2022).


This article appears on December 2023, in Volume 4, Issue 3 of the Maryland Milk Moos newsletter.

Maryland Milk Moo's, December 2023, Vol. 4, Issue 3

Maryland Milk Moos is a quarterly newsletter published by the University of Maryland Extension that focuses on dairy topics related to Nutrition and Production, Herd Management, and Forage Production. To subscribe to this newsletter, click the button below to enter your contact information.