Pig cooling pads and weather forecasts for cows are high-tech ways to make meat in a warming world

Jul 30, 2023, 3:19 PM | Updated: 4:38 pm

Cows on a farm...

Cows stand in their stable on a sustainable farm in Soest, The Netherlands, on July 20, 2023. (Photo by Robin van Lonkhuijsen / ANP / AFP) / Netherlands OUT (Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

(Photo by ROBIN VAN LONKHUIJSEN/ANP/AFP via Getty Images)

CHICAGO (AP) — More than a third of the heat-trapping gases cooking the planet come from growing and raising farm animals, but millions of cattle, pigs and other animals get to stay cool in the United States and other parts of the developed world.

Many American farmers have apps to forecast animal comfort in the heat. There are computer-controlled “ cooling pads ” for sows. Dairy farmers lower barns’ temperatures with misters, air conditioning and giant fans. Special pedometers, the cow version of a Fitbit, measure vital signs that give clues to animals’ health.

More intense summer heat resulting from emissions-driven climate change means animal heat stress that can result in billions of dollars in lost revenue for farmers and ranchers if not properly managed. But technology often insulates livestock in richer countries — another way global warming exacerbates the gap between wealthy and poor nations.

The U.S. is the world’s largest producer and consumer of beef by volume. People have been drinking less milk in the U.S. but eating more cheese, and government programs still support dairies across the country. About 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions come from animal-based food products, said Atul Jain, a professor in the department of atmospheric sciences at The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who studies the interactions between climate and human activities like agriculture.

Livestock producers in other parts of the world can’t adopt measures to beat the heat as easily as farmers in the U.S. A 2022 study in the Lancet Planetary Health found that cattle heat stress losses will be far greater in most tropical regions than in temperate regions, due to higher climate impacts and the relatively higher price of measures to adapt to climate change.

Many experts advocate for people in countries like the U.S., where diets are heavy with animal products, to eat less meat and dairy. But big, industrial farms in developed countries are relatively efficient, so to meet global demand with fewer animals, less-developed countries will also need to access the kind of technology that can make them more productive in the face of extreme heat.

“Those innovations bring me a lot of hope,” said Mario Herrero, a professor of food systems and global change at Cornell University who coauthored the Lancet Planetary Health study. “It’s a matter of how do we deploy them.”

This winter, the McAllister family of New Vienna, Iowa, installed new fans above the beds where their cows lie, and they’re happy with the updates. Their cows are already showing signs of improved welfare, like chewing more cud, and there’s more heat ahead this summer.

“We’re going to do what’s best by our cows no matter what is or isn’t going on with climate change,” said Megan McAllister, a sixth-generation dairy farmer. Her husband’s family has been farming for five generations.

September feels like another August these days, McAllister said.

“We want to make the right investments to better our cows, better our businesses that are our dairies, and make sure we’re here for the long haul and that we are thinking about sustainability,” she said.

Making that investment, of course, has a price: more fans for cooling means higher energy bills. That’s something Dr. Michelle Schack, a dairy veterinarian based in Arizona, has noticed as well. She said that the farmers she works with are well-prepared for the blistering heat the state has seen this year, because as research on animal health has improved, they’ve invested in infrastructure.

But it costs a lot.

“Fans and misters, let’s not forget, are hugely expensive, not only to install but the amount of electricity they take is insane,” Schack said.

That could be partly addressed with cheaper solar power integrated into agricultural projects. But regardless, “it’s going to be a challenge, a financial challenge” for more farms to adopt heat mitigation strategies, said Gerald Nelson, a professor emeritus at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and a coauthor on the Lancet Planetary Health study.

Nelson described how different, heat-tolerant animal species or even something as simple as shade structures and extra water supplies can make a big difference when adapting to heat.

Information can help too. A team of USDA and university scientists recently launched a new app called HotHog that uses local weather data to help farmers anticipate conditions that might be uncomfortable for their pigs. And Chip Redmond, a meteorologist at Kansas State University, helped develop a seven-day animal comfort forecast tool for beef farmers that takes into account temperature as well as factors like humidity and wind.

As part of his work with Kansas State, Redmond gives presentations to producers and the general public, and he said that climate change has come up in conversations.

Both he and Jackie Boerman, an associate professor in the department of animal sciences at Purdue University, said that they recognize that farmers have to deal with the effects of climate change every day.

“We want to cool cows, but we also have to recognize that we want to also be environmentally sustainable,” Boerman said. Those two ideas are, she said, “sometimes a little bit at odds with each other.”

General News

The logo for the Tesla Supercharger station is seen in Buford, Ga, April 22, 2021. Faced with falli...

Associated Press

Tesla 1Q profit falls 55%, but stock jumps as company moves to speed production of cheaper vehicles

Tesla’s stock price surged in after-hours trading Tuesday as the company said it would prioritize production of more affordable vehicles.

10 hours ago


Amy Donaldson, KSL Podcasts

The Letter: Sense of dread precedes second 1982 Millcreek Canyon murder

This true crime podcast details the second man killed in a double murder outside a Millcreek Canyon restaurant in 1982.

12 hours ago

Donald Trump speaks to the media upon arriving for his trial at Manhattan Criminal Court on April 2...

Associated Press

Tabloid publisher says he pledged to be Trump campaign’s ‘eyes and ears’ during 2016 race

A veteran tabloid publisher testified Tuesday that he pledged to be Donald Trump 's “eyes and ears" during his 2016 presidential campaign.

20 hours ago

Several hundred students and pro-Palestinian supporters rally at the intersection of Grove and Coll...

Associated Press

Pro-Palestinian protests sweep US college campuses following mass arrests at Columbia

Columbia canceled in-person classes, dozens of protesters were arrested at New York University and Yale, and the gates to Harvard Yard were closed to the public Monday.

1 day ago

Ban on sleeping outdoors under consideration in Supreme Court...

Associated Press

With homelessness on the rise, the Supreme Court weighs bans on sleeping outdoors

The Supreme Court is wrestling with major questions about the growing issue of homelessness as it considers a ban on sleeping outdoors.

1 day ago

Donald Trump appears in court for opening statements in his criminal trial for allegedly covering u...

Associated Press

Trump tried to ‘corrupt’ the 2016 election, prosecutor alleges as hush money trial gets underway

Donald Trump's criminal trial in New York over alleged hush money payments started with opening statements on Monday.

2 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.


Midwestern University

Midwestern University Clinics: transforming health care in the valley

Midwestern University, long a fixture of comprehensive health care education in the West Valley, is also a recognized leader in community health care.


Fiesta Bowl Foundation

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade is excitingly upon us

The 51st annual Vrbo Fiesta Bowl Parade presented by Lerner & Rowe is upon us! The attraction honors Arizona and the history of the game.

Pig cooling pads and weather forecasts for cows are high-tech ways to make meat in a warming world