Heat stress on the farm

When it’s hotter than a pack of heifers stuffed in a clown car, humans and animals have the same survival needs. Water. Shade. Rest. The farm workers and livestock under your supervision all depend on these basic things to prevent serious heat illnesses caused by overwork and dehydration. Learn the signs and treatments to help you, your workers, and your livestock stay cool, hydrated, and as happy as a pig in slop this summer.

Heat illness in workers: Symptoms and treatment

It’s not like farmers can choose to not work outside. That’s one of the reasons the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists farmers as high risk for heat stress because of their work outside. They’re also often working around hot machinery, so learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses that way you’ll recognize if you or your workers start showing symptoms.

1. Heat exhaustion

When someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Clammy skin

To treat heat exhaustion:

To treat heat exhaustion, first get the person into air-conditioning or shade and have them start drinking water. The National Safety Council also recommends cooling someone affected by heat exhaustion by removing outer layers of clothing. If it’s not possible to immerse the person in a pool or bath, apply ice bags or cold packs to the neck, armpits, and groin to help reduce body temperature.

2. Heat stroke

The most dangerous and extreme heat illness is heat stroke. Because of the elevated body temperature, the skin is hot and dry. Someone with heat stroke might also experience:

  • Chills
  • A throbbing headache
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech

If someone shows signs of heat stroke, do the following immediately.

In case of heat stroke:

  • Call 911.
  • Move the person to a cool place.
  • Don’t leave the person until medical services arrive.
  • Remove outer clothing.
  • Apply ice bags, cool wash cloth, or cold packs to the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Turn on any fans or air-conditioning available to speed cooling.

Prevent heat illness

NIOSH also encourages employers to take steps to reduce the risk of workplace heat stress.

  • Reschedule work for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
  • Provide cool, portable water in work area.
  • Workers need 2 to 4 cups of water every hour.
  • Provide sunscreen and require it be worn.
  • Allow time for water and rest breaks.
  • Require protective clothing like hats and lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Increase the number of workers on tasks that involve being outside.
  • Closely supervise new employees until they are acclimatized to working conditions.
  • Train supervisors and workers on the prevention and signs and of heat illness.

For more information

If you hire farm hands during the hot summer months, do your best to protect them. We’ll do our best to protect you. That’s why Grinnell Mutual offers Farm-Guard®, a farm liability policy that helps protect you as an employer in case of an accident, injury, or claim of negligence. Contact an agent to find out more about Farm-Guard liability insurance.

Signs of livestock heat stress

You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. But you can do everything in your power to make your livestock get their daily water needs. If your livestock decides to be stubborn, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service says to watch for signs of dehydration, such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Change in behavior
  • Reduced feed intake
  • Tightening of the skin
  • Weight loss
  • Drying of mucous membranes and eyes
  • Panting/breathing with an open mouth
  • Trembling
  • Stumbling
  • Disorientation

Tips to avoid livestock heat stress

Put these tips into practice to keep your livestock comfortably cool and safe from the effects of heat stress.


Made in the shade applies to your livestock, too. Provide shade in buildings, under trees, and other shady places for your livestock to rest.

Cool water

The key to keeping your livestock comfortable could be as simple as where you place your water tank. Shade the tank or place it under an already shaded area to keep the water as cool as possible.

Livestock Daily Water Needs

Learn the water needs of the livestock in your care.

Work animals at dawn and dusk

Movement and digestion generate heat internally. So work livestock in cooler parts of the day if at all possible.


We know that a little bit of air movement on a very hot day can work wonders. Use fans to make those still, miserable days much more manageable for livestock. Bonus: Add spray misters to the fans or sprinklers.

Protection for your farm

When preventative measures and doing all the right things isn’t enough, we’ll keep our promise to protect your interests. Rely on the strength and stability of your local mutual company backed by Grinnell Mutual’s strong bottom line and more than 100 years of experience protecting farming operations like yours. Learn about our farm property and liability coverage options. Trust in Tomorrow™. Contact your Grinnell Mutual Member agent today.