It is now officially known that we are in a period of weather extremities and since summer is here, temperatures have sown higher with the end point being us experiencing heat wave. The drastic change in temperature not only affects our livestock but if not managed, could lead to huge losses, complications and even animal deaths. It is up to every livestock farmer to make changes in the way they’ve been managing livestock to increase or be more vigilant than ever in making sure than their animals are as comfortable as possible in this heat but mostly that they are coping and not affected production wise. There are various areas where we as animal care takers can assist our stock in, we’ll discuss the key ones below.
Water is one of the most essential substances in maintaining life, therefore its necessity to animals at this time should not be underestimated. This is one of the means to help them cool off and it is important to always remember that during hot days, the water intake for animals doubles so there should be provided with adequate water at all times.
One emphasis should be on water quality that it should be upped looking at the fact that the heat temperatures seem to fluctuate mostly ranging in the high therefore quality matters because if water is not at its best state, maybe tasting salty or saline, it would open a can of worms in other health issues as it will be difficult to take in/ drink and might even cause osmotic imbalances in their bodies.
Other conditions that might arise are kidney stones and urinary calculi as well as aggravating heat stress especially for those animals that have not been at their best health state.
Shading is as important as the former since it is one of those aspects that provide a cooling effect like sheep tolerate hot for weather moderately and as it goes higher they tend not to take it too well.
With shade simple structures can be made to provide shade for animals but using trees is a good, way of keeping animals cool at no cost. Since it is well known that animals such as cattle tend to sit and rest under shade for longer times when it is hot than to drink or eat. They use the resting time to regurgitate (chew the cud). Trees provide a cooling effect as they turn the hot passing wind into a cooler gentle breeze.
Even though these trees are cost effective and efficient, it is important make sure that the trees used for shading animals are not of harm. Some plants near shady trees are poisonous especially during drought periods where most of the good ones are used up. Toxic plants especially in bushy areas such as Mogau/Poison leaf (Dichapetelum cymosum) and Tholwana/ morolwana also known as Thorn apple/nightshade (Solanum incanum) therefore in areas where this plants are available, it would be wise to consider the cost of building shades and avoiding herding to those places as death due to poisoning is not a toll one wants to add to their farm statistics especially in these tough times.
Feed digestion causes heat production which will contribute to the animals heat load. Provide animals with high quality feed to maintain nutrient intake without excessive heat production, and feed out in early morning or evening when are temperatures lower.
Chemicals used for external parasites
Another important factor to consider is that if people are applying backline chemicals in very hot conditions. Yes ticks, lice and flies are one of the external parasites hat are a concern for our livestock but since this ambient temperatures are here, we have to watch out for the kind of chemicals we use on them. For instance there are certain pour-on dips that would react badly on the animal’s skin causing hair to fall off and patches appearing hence dermatitis may result. So that practice is best avoided until cooler conditions prevail. Consult with your veterinarian on which chemicals to use that are kinder on the animal’s skin.
Transport of animals
It is recommended not to handle animals in extreme heat unless absolutely necessary. If necessary, make sure it is done as early or late in the day as possible when temperatures are lower.
Transport of animals should be planned so that temperature extremes likely to compromise the animals’ welfare are avoided. If transport is absolutely necessary, the journey plan should minimize the effects of hot weather on the animals; pre-determine your route, mark out a map with places of shade and perhaps water availability (such as rest stops).
Animals should only be transported during the cooler hours of the day. If it is necessary to stop, park the vehicle in the shade and at right angles to the wind direction to improve wind flow between animals during hot weather. Duration of stops should be kept to a minimum to avoid the build-up of heat while the vehicle is stationary.
Stocking densities should be reduced to 85% of capacity to ensure good air flow between animals, and drivers should have contingency plans in place for adverse weather events.
Animals at high risk of heat stress include:
- young animals
- dark colored animals
- Animals that have been sick or have a previous history of respiratory disease.
Heat stress tolerances can also vary between and within a species, for example:
- pigs become heat stressed at a lower temperature level and are very prone to sunburn
- sheep that are newly shorn are at risk of sunburn
- high producing dairy cows are more effected by extreme heat than lower producing cows
- lactating cattle are more susceptible than dry cows because of the additional metabolic heat generated during lactation
- beef cattle with black hair suffer more from direct solar radiation than those with lighter hair, although those with pink skin are at risk of sunburn
- Holsteins are less tolerant than Jersey cows
- heavy cattle over 450 kg are more susceptible than lighter ones
- Cattle are more prone to heat stress than sheep and goats.
These types of animals should be watched more closely for signs of heat stress during days of high temperature.
Identifying heat stress
There are many signs of heat stress that you can look for in your animals. Some general signs include:
- increased respiration rate
- increased water intake
- loss of appetite
- increased salivation
- In severe cases may become unconscious.
You should ensure you are well informed on the heat stress signs of any species you own and watch closely during days of extreme heat. See the specific species information below for further details
Treating heat stress
If your animals are showing signs of heat stress the following actions can be taken to cool them down:
- Move them to the shade immediately, preferably somewhere with a breeze. If animals are too stressed to move, pick them up and move them or provide shade where they are
- Offer plenty of cool clean water, but encourage them to drink small amounts often spray them with cool water, especially on the legs and feet, or stand them in water. Use sprinklers or hoses for cattle, pigs and horses. Lay wet towels over them.
- Increase air movement around them. This can be done with fans, ventilation, or wind movement
- decrease stocking rates to allow animals room to lie down
- If the animal shows no sign of improvement contact your local veterinarian for assistance.
While heat stress can have significant impacts on production and animal welfare, by making some minor management changes and taking a little extra care of your animals during periods of extreme hot weather, the effects of heat stress can be substantially reduced.
Even though much emphasis is put on animals here, it is vital to also consider and advice the care takers of these animals being people. In order for us to better take care of these animals during these extreme heat period, we need to ensure our well being first.
- Always wear hats when outside to protect yourself from the heat.
- Hydrate with plenty of water. Carry a bottle with you every time.
- Take breaks from working in the sun to rest in the shade and cool off.
- Schedule most of the farm activities on cooler times of the day like morning and evening.
- Most of all stay safe and don’t be in the sun longer than you need.
Let us stay safe and be cautionary so that we can be able to take care of our livestock. If we are not productive and vigilant, they will not be either. Their efficiency depends on our input. Happy farming!