August 2021


Global rising temperature is a considerable threat to livestock production and an impediment to animal welfare. In fact, the 5 warmest years on record have occurred since 2016. Although the effect of heat stress on lactating cattle is well recognized and extensively studied, it is increasingly evident that rising temperatures will affect dairy cattle of all ages and lactation states. However, the extent and consequences of this effect are less understood and often overlooked in the literature and dairy industry. Early-life experiences, such as exposure to hyperthermia, can have life-long implications for health and productivity. This review highlights the body of work surrounding the effects of heat-stress exposure in young dairy cattle, including the prenatal fetus (in utero), postnatal calves (preweaning), and growing heifers, which are all categories that are typically not considered for heat-stress abatement on farm. Insights into the physiological and molecular mechanisms that might explain the adverse phenotypic outcomes of heat-stress exposure at different stages of development are also discussed. The estimated economic loss of in utero hyperthermia is addressed, and the ties between biological findings and opportunities for the application of cooling management interventions on farm are also presented. Our research highlights the importance of heat-stress abatement strategies for dry-pregnant cows to ensure optimal multigenerational productivity and showcases the benefits of cooling neonatal calves and growing heifers. Understanding the implications of heat stress at all life stages from a physiological, molecular, economic, and welfare perspective will lead to the development of novel and refined practices and interventions to help overcome the long-lasting effects of climate change in the dairy industry.


Jimena Laporta