THE CLIMATE KELPIE BLOG: Take a load off your mind with the Cattle Heat Load Toolbox

Posted by BCG on 28th November 2019

Hot weather puts a lot of stress on cows. For feedlot managers, managing heat stress is all about getting the preparation right and that’s where the Cattle Heat Load Toolbox can help.

Figure 1. The Cattle Heat Load Toolbox is a suite of tools to help feedlot managers prepare for hot conditions.

The toolbox provides feedlot managers with a suite of tools to assess the heat risk at their site, to calculate the heat load thresholds relevant to their own situation and to monitor upcoming hot conditions.

It’s a free tool provided by Weather Intelligence, a Katestone company, and backed by Meat and Livestock Australia and the Australian Lot Feeders Association. The system is based on extensive research undertaken by the University of Queensland and Katestone. 

Forecasts on the website predict the heat load for the coming week (Figure 2) and users can opt to receive alerts when hot weather is expected.

Alert service

“Many components of the toolbox can be accessed by anyone, but registered users can get a lot more out of the system, such as a forecast for their site including heat load index and accumulated heat load and daily alerts for high risk conditions,” says Katestone’s Christine Killip. 

“Users can tailor the alerts for the heat load index thresholds relevant to their own feedlot site,” Ms Killip said.

“We’ve recently upgraded the system to allow people to upload data from their own automated weather stations, which allows a much more precise and site-specific forecast of heat risk. Some users upload data from multiple weather stations to get a better understanding of the variation in conditions at different parts of their site.”

Figure 2. Cattle Heat Load Toolbox forecast for a private site in Western Australia, 31 October 2019. Summary forecasts highlight daily accumulated heat load units (AHLU) and users can drill down to get hourly detail. Note, only partial detail shown.

“Anyone with a National Feedlot Accreditation Scheme (NFSA) number can register and add multiple people to their account including staff, veterinarians and nutritional advisors. We now have around 90 per cent of the Australian feedlot herd monitored.”

Risk management tools

“Some people simply use the toolbox to get alerts by email or SMS that are tailored to their location. But we also have a group of real power users who have embedded the tools into their daily business operations.”

The toolbox allows users to undertake a site risk assessment and calculate the heat load index thresholds for their cattle and site. These take breed, shade, water temperature and various management strategies into consideration.

The site risk assessment enables users to better understand the inherent risks at their site and to see how changes to those site features or management practices can impact on the heat load index. 

Proven system

Over the 2018-19 summer season there were over 1,700 users of the service with around 600 people registered. In a recent survey almost two-thirds of respondents said they used the website every day during the hot season.

“Last summer we sent almost 8,000 emails and 3,000 SMS alerts during the summer forecast period (Figure 3).”

“Our user survey showed that 98 per cent found the Cattle Heat Load Toolbox was helpful to their business. When users know that a heat event is on the way, they are in a much better position to manage their cattle,” Ms Killip said.

Figure 3. The Cattle Heat Load Toolbox sent over 10,000 alerts last summer, mainly in January. The most common alerts were for accumulated heat load units (AHLU), but users were also alerted to incomplete night-time recovery and rapid changes to the heat load index (HLI).

“Some users have also told us they use the system to check risk conditions at the destination before shipping cattle, for instance to an abattoir.”

The Cattle Heat Load Toolbox plays an invaluable role in helping to manage heat stress in feedlot cattle during the summer season.

Contact

Christine Killip, 07 3369 3699, christine.killip@katestone.com.au
The Cattle Heat Load Toolbox is available for free online or check out their website tour.

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