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Agronomic Crops Network

Ohio State University Extension


Beating the Heat on Farms

As we reach the middle of June, there is growing concern for human and livestock welfare as we approach our first heat wave of the season. With forecast highs in the mid to upper 90s and little relief in the evenings in the coming week, steps need to be taken to ensure everyone stays cool and safe.Carol M. Highsmith Archive, Library of Congress

Looking at the numbers:

  • On April 24, 2024, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), under the Department of Labor, presented a draft of the framework that addresses heightened efforts to keep workers safe in the heat. This particularly focuses on dangers to agricultural workers. Since 2022, OSHA has conducted almost 5,000 inspections that were heat-related.
  • A study using the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries database found that heat-related deaths are 35 times higher in farm workers when compared to workers in other industries.
  • Ohio State University researchers have estimated that economic loss to the United States livestock and poultry industries due to heat stress can range from $1.9 to $2.7 billion annually.

Keeping an eye on the weather forecast is the first step to prevention. Much attention is given to tornados, severe storms, and floods. However, according to the National Weather Service, heat-related deaths are still the greatest weather-related cause of death in the U.S.

Heat advisories and excessive heat warnings are both based on the heat index which is a combination of air temperature and humidity. Heat advisories are issued when indices are expected to be 100 degrees Fahrenheit or higher for at least two days while excessive heat warnings are issued for indices of 105 Fahrenheit and higher for at least two days.Weather Fatalities 2023

Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are real possibilities with indices this high while also possible at lower levels depending on the health of the individual. Here are some best management practices to keep you and your livestock more comfortable:

Farmers and employees:

  1. Start the day well hydrated and keep drinking water regularly throughout the day. If you wait until you are thirsty, you have waited too long.
  2. Keep particularly strenuous tasks (especially those requiring additional personal protective equipment) to the cooler parts of the day when possible.
  3. Increase the number of breaks and slowly build up a tolerance to working in the heat, especially in the first few high heat events in the season.


  1. Ensure all ventilation equipment in barns is well maintained and functioning properly. If temperature alarms are present, test them.
  2. Always have fresh, clean water available to the animals.
  3. Shade must be available for animals not confined in structures.
  4. Consider changing feeding times for animals. Feed intake produces heat. This usually peaks 4 to 6 hours after feeding. Receiving more of the daily ration after the heat of the day will help relieve some of this added stress.

Prevention of heat-related illness is ideal, but awareness of the signs to watch for is also important to be prepared for action. According to OSHA, heat exhaustion symptoms include fatigue, irritability, thirst, nausea, dizziness, heavy sweating, and elevated body temperature or fast heart rate. If you or someone you are with is experiencing these symptoms, move to a cooler area and cool the body by loosening clothing, drinking water, fanning, or use cool, wet towels. If symptoms persist, seek medical attention.

Heat stroke is the most serious of heat-related illnesses. Regardless of age, over 20% of those suffering from heat stroke will die. In addition to the symptoms of heat exhaustion, a heat stroke victim will also show signs of confusion, slurred speech, unconsciousness, seizures, or hot, dry skin. If these additional symptoms are observed, take the same action as heat exhaustion, and dial 911 immediately.

Heat Exhaustion vs Heat Stoke

Crop Observation and Recommendation Network

C.O.R.N. Newsletter is a summary of crop observations, related information, and appropriate recommendations for Ohio crop producers and industry. C.O.R.N. Newsletter is produced by the Ohio State University Extension Agronomy Team, state specialists at The Ohio State University and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center (OARDC). C.O.R.N. Newsletter questions are directed to Extension and OARDC state specialists and associates at Ohio State.