While the polar vortex may make it tough to remember what warm weather feels like, researchers at Cornell University are already focused on the dog days of summer — and, more specifically, what all that heat can mean for cows.

When dairy cattle get too hot, their milk production and reproductive activity decreases, and sometimes they may even die — which amounts to unhappy cows and loss of income for dairy farmers.

To help farmers keep their cows cool, Cornell engineers are collaborating on a multidisciplinary research project that could provide a sustainable alternative to current heat-mitigation strategies.

Rather than using fans, misters or sprinklers, graduate student Kristy Perano is exploring the concept of conductively cooling cows, potentially using waste heat to do so — that is, capturing the heat produced as a by-product of operating equipment then putting it to use cooling the cows.

To test the feasibility of using waste heat, Perano is teaming up with another graduate student and a faculty adviser from the biological and environmental engineering department. They’re looking at using the waste heat from a biogas-powered generator as the power source. Typically, 70 percent of the total energy from this kind of generator ends up as waste heat.

Conductive cooling refers to heat transfer through direct contact between surfaces of different temperatures. For cows, this means getting chilled mats on barn floors, which has measurable effects on their heat stress levels, milk production and overall health, reports the Cornell Chronicle.

“A lot of people in the Northeast just use fans for their cooling systems,” Perano, who grew up on a beef cattle ranch in California, told the paper. “In the West and South there are significant problems with heat stress, and with global warming you could have more problems here.”

For more information on the project, check out the full story in the Cornell Chronicle.

Home page image: Lindsay France/Cornell University Photography

How else do cows connect to energy? Read about manure-powered dairy farm trucks.

By Mary Mazzoni

Mary is a lifelong vegetarian and enjoys outdoor activities like hiking, biking and relaxing in the park. When she’s not outside, she’s probably watching baseball. She is a former assistant editor for Earth911.