Feeling the heat: tips for helping farm animals cope with hot weather

Feeling the heat: tips for helping farm animals cope with hot weather

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With the current hot temperatures predicted to last, there is an increased risk of serious welfare problems for all livestock species.

All animals should be offered shaded areas with access to plenty of clean water. With many parts of the country facing drought conditions, it is important to ensure that you have a contingency plan in place to provide your animals with sufficient water. Defra provides some useful guidance on water provision, including what to do if water supplies are interrupted.

If you're providing natural shade, ensure appropriate insect repellent is being used.

Poultry

Birds are very susceptible to heat stress. If housed indoors, the stocking density within the farm buildings should be reduced to allow sufficient air to circulate.

luisa-dormer-rspca-farm-animals-team.jpg

Luisa Dormer is the scientific information officer in the RSPCA’s farm animals department. 

In this article she takes a look at some of the risks caused to farm animal welfare by hot weather - and how they can be mitigated.

Additional fans can help to reduce the effects of heat stress, provided this is carried out in a controlled manner.

Birds should be monitored frequently to assess any changes that indicate that more drastic action is needed.

In windowed housing, shutters can be installed over the windows to help control the amount of direct light entering, reducing the risk of heat stress.

Ventilation is particularly important in buildings with natural light openings, including the capacity of the system and the position of the ventilation inlets.

Pigs

Pigs are prone to heat stress, and their cooling mechanisms are limited.

They will pant to try and cool down, and lose

only a limited amount of heat through sweat.

Outdoor pigs should have artificial or natural wallows available for them to lose heat through evaporation, and insulated arcs can prevent them from becoming too hot.

Pigs are also particularly susceptible to sunburn, and access to arcs, wallows and shade will also provide protection against this.

Where pigs are housed indoors, the ventilation systems should be checked to ensure that they are working properly.

Misting in the dunging area can help indoor pigs to cool down.

In extreme cases of heat stress (i.e. they collapse), it may be necessary to spray them with a fine mist or use a fan.

Cold water should never be thrown over a pig, though, as the shock may cause a heart attack.

Cattle

If the decision is made to bring cattle inside during very hot weather, then they must have access to unlimited amounts of clean drinking water at all times; water troughs should be checked to ensure that they are delivering the required amount of water, particularly for dairy cows when peaks in demand are seen post-milking.

Misting and forced ventilation can be used for animals housed indoors. If animals have to be fed supplementary feed, then it is advisable to provide fresh feed at either end of the day, when the weather is not so hot.

Dairy cattle should ideally be milked a little later in the afternoon, when it is slightly cooler.

If this is not possible, then cooling the animals down with water whilst they are waiting to

milked may be necessary.

Sheep

Newly shorn sheep should also be monitored very closely because, paradoxically, they are probably more susceptible to heat stress than a fully fleeced sheep, as the fleece acts as insulation against the heat.

However, moving fully fleeced sheep around in hot weather can increase the risk of heat stress. Stock should be checked regularly for presence of blowfly strike.

Transport

The transportation of animals in hot weather should be avoided unless absolutely necessary, and where possible, this should be done during the coolest part of the day - night-time is usually the best time for this movement.

Transport, as well as handling, imposes additional stress on animals and this makes it more difficult for them to cope with the heat.

For further information on farm animals in hot weather, please see the advice from APHA.

Date: 01 Aug 2018