A heat wave is hitting dairy cows in Aichi Prefecture, where dairy farming is an important industry.

Experts say that heat stroke or loss of appetite caused by the summer heat has a gradual impact on milk production. Dairy producers say they don’t have enough measures to deal with this summer’s unusual heat wave and are worried that falling production will eventually affect consumers.

Holsteins, which account for 99 percent of the total milk cows in Japan, keep their body temperature as high as 38.5 as they retain fermentation heat in the body. However, their body temperatures are much higher this summer. “Scorching heat is raising the temperatures to nearly 40 degrees now. Many cows are breathing hard and drooling,” said Toru Ito, a 55-year-old veterinarian who supervises farms in Toyohashi and other cities.

In late July, Aichi Prefecture experienced boiling hot days. Nagoya suffered from extremely hot days, with the temperature exceeding 35 for eight consecutive days, as well as sweltering nights with temperatures staying above 25.

According to a dairy cooperative staffer, milk production in Aichi dropped by 7 percent to 15 percent this summer from the annual average, whereas it usually drops by about 5 percent.

Dairy farmer Tatsuru Ito, 57, in the city of Tahara said milk production at his outfit fell by as much as 30 percent. “The best temperature for Holsteins is between 4 to 14 degrees. But it doesn’t get cool even at night, and cows are eating just about half their usual amount,” Ito said.

The Nagoya Local Meteorological Observatory forecasts the heat wave will continue into late summer.

To alleviate the heat, farmers have taken measures such as running ventilation fans, spraying mist and providing cold water to cows. “The only thing we can do additionally is to increase the number of air conditioners. But I am afraid it will be too costly,” Ito said.

Kazutoshi Sakakibara, a 50-year-old farmer in Handa, is concerned about the lingering effect of the heat.

Cows produce milk only after getting pregnant and giving birth. “If this unusual heat continues, sperm for artificial insemination would die in the womb and push down the conception rate,” Sakakibara said. “If the birthrate drops, we’ll see a big impact well into next year.”

One cow at Sakakibara’s farm already died of heat stroke.

He opened another dairy farm in a highland area near Mount Fuji five years ago to avoid Aichi’s harsh summer. “I am not sure if this heat is due to global warming, but this year is particularly bad,” Sakakibara said.

An official at Chuo Seinyu, a milk producer in Toyohashi, said retailers have not seen the effect of falling milk production yet due to declining milk consumption. “But if this heat continues, there is a potential shortfall of milk as people try to buy more milk at stores and schools resume lunches in September after the summer holidays,” the official said.

Aichi had 32,100 dairy cows in 2009, the seventh-largest herd in Japan and the biggest in the Tokai region.

This section, appearing Saturdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by local daily Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Aug. 4.

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