Florida Summer:  Not all Fun in the Sun  

June, 2022
Sheri Trent, UF/IFAS Extension Seminole Tribe

Lounging in a beach chair, feeling the warm sun burning your skin, smelling the salty breeze, tip toeing across the hot sand to move toward the crashing waves to play in the ocean: this is what people think of Florida summer.  Tourists from around the world come here to enjoy the warm weather, great beaches and scattered theme parks.  But the hot summer months bring more to Florida agriculture than fun in the sun. 

The Florida summer can be brutal on livestock and horses across the state.  Cows may feel the effects of heat stress in temperatures above 75 degrees Fahrenheit.  We hit above 75 degrees in March or earlier and average 90-95 degrees in summer.  The humidity makes it even worse.  When cattle are over heated, they eat less, require more water intake and don’t have the same rate of gain.  In the equestrian world, there is a formula.  Add the temperature and percentage of relative humidity.  If the number is between 130 and 150, the horse will sweat in a workout, but with adequate water intake, he will recover easily.  However, if the sum exceeds 180, the horse should not be exercised because the horse’s heat dissipation system will not be able to prevent heat stress.  To prevent heat stress in all horse and livestock, monitor closely, ensure ample water supplies and shade, and avoid excess exercise during hot hours of the day.

Another difficult aspect for Florida summer is the rain: specifically, daily thunderstorms throughout the summer.  Annual precipitation averages 55 inches, with the majority occurring in summer.  Daily rain makes it hard on skin, hooves and health of our livestock and horses.  Constant wet ground makes hooves susceptible to fungal problems.  Rain rot and other skin irritations become prevalent during the rainy season. It is imperative to provide dry land for horses and livestock to remain when the ground is saturated.  If rain rot or other skin problems occur, they must be tended to quickly to ensure recovery.  The daily rainstorms also complicate daily ranch functions.  Many ranches arrange their cow work for early mornings to avoid the heat and afternoon storms.   

One very annoying problem in the summer is bugs.  We have mosquitos, horse flies, stable flies, gnats and deer flies throughout Florida.  This is a major problem with all livestock animals in the south.    Different kinds of flies and insects aggravate and cause skin irritations in horses, cows and other livestock and also can transfer diseases.  West Nile virus, eastern equine encephalitis and St Louis encephalitis are a few of the diseases transferred by mosquitos in Florida.  These can be very serious, therefore prevention is key.  There are fly systems for barns, cattle back rubs, sprays and even oral medications available to assist with fly and mosquito control. 

Florida is an amazing state full of remarkable people, great communities and wonderful livestock and animals.  21 million people, 886,000 head of cattle and 385,000 horses enjoy the land, weather and fabulous amenities every day.  However, there is a downside: intense heat, constant rain and abundant insects.  In the livestock industry, we must attack these issues head on.  With adequate prevention, sound monitoring and careful attention to the animals, we can keep Florida one of the most prominent horse and livestock producers in the country.  


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