UC Davis Using Energy Commission Grant To Study How To Keep Cows Cool

More energy efficient technologies on how to keep dairy cows cool in the heat are being tested at the University of California, Davis.

The UC Davis Department of Animal Science and the Western Cooling Efficiency Center is researching innovative cooling techniques. The project is part of a four-year, $1 million grant from the California Energy Commission to help reduce energy and water use in California’s dairy industry.

The grant funds come from the Energy Commission’s Electric Program Investment Charge (EPIC) program, which supports innovation and strategies to advance clean energy technologies that help California meet its energy and climate goals.

Milk is California’s most valued agricultural commodity with $9.4 billion in sales in 2014. Heat stress is a major cause of diminished milk production in dairy cows, with losses from heat stress exceeding $800 million annually.

“The process of rumination, where cows ferment their food, produces a lot of heat, as does milk production itself,” said Cassandra Tucker, a professor in the Department of Animal Science. “When the outside temperatures also rise, it’s a challenge for the animal in how she’s going to try to keep cool.”

The intense heat of summer can significantly affect cow’s milk production. Heat stress not only can cause low milk production but it can also cause fertility issues and sometimes even death.

The innovative cooling methods being tested are designed to reduce water use up to 86 percent and electricity use up to 38 percent compared to conventional methods.

Those methods, which include using high velocity fans and sprinkling the cows with water, use a lot of water and electricity. About 11,000 gallons of water is used per cow per year, said Theresa Pistochini, engineering manager for the Western Cooling Efficiency Center.

The cooling methods being tested are conduction cooling and convection cooling. Conduction cooling is where cooling mats and bedding are placed on the floor where the cows lie down. Energy use is reduced because water flowing through the mats is cooled using an evaporative chiller.

Cows spend 12 to 15 hours a day using the beds, Tucker said.

Convection cooling uses a high-efficiency direct evaporative cooler that directs cool air through a duct onto the cows for when they are feeding or lying down.

The data collected from the research will help determine which technology will be demonstrated at a large-scale dairy in Tulare later in the project.
Graphic courtesy of UC Davis.

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