Heat Stress in Livestock – Preparing for Heatwave

As we approach this summer, we can expect to have heatwave conditions that will affect us all.

We will be scuttling for the air-conditioning, taking more dips in our favourite waterhole and drinking more water. But what about our livestock?

Climate projections predict that heatwaves will become more frequent and intense in future. Heatwave forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology.

During heatwaves we have both high maximum and minimum temperatures, which means it does not cool down enough at night to allow sufficient recovery from the effects of heat. Extreme heat causes significant stress on all animals.

How does heat affect our livestock?

Before the signs of heat stress are evident, the body has been working hard to maintain normal body functions and temperature. Signs of heat stress in livestock include

  • Increased respiratory rate/ panting and open mouth breathing
  • Protruding tongues and drooling
  • Lethargy and reluctance to move
  • Increased water intake
  • Reduced food intake/ grazing
  • Sweating
  • Unconsciousness (severe).

Heat stress affects the welfare and health of livestock resulting in decreased production, infertility and compromised immune systems leading to increased susceptibility to disease.

Different animals have differing abilities to cope with heat, depending on their previous adaptation to heat, their breed, coat colour, age and health. During heatwaves the most vulnerable livestock will be the young, and any that are sick, particularly if they have a respiratory illness. During these conditions be sure to regularly check on your stock.

We can’t control the weather; however, we can take steps to reduce the effects of heat on our livestock.

1. Make sure your livestock have plenty of cool, clean water

Stock will drink twice as much water during extreme heat. This means having watering systems operating that can deliver this water during hot weather.

Do you have adequate troughs or watering points to allow all the stock to get a drink at peak times? This may mean adding more troughs or providing other water access points. Stock will crowd troughs to get a drink, cattle are renown for wrecking troughs if the water flow is too low.

Watering points should be located so that stock do not have to walk too far for water.

Check pipes and pipelines. Will they deliver the quantity of water needed with enough pressure to fill troughs? Check that pumps are maintained and working.

Do you have at least two days’ supply stored in tanks; in case you lose one day’s supply.

Water supply failure during extreme heat can quickly result in animals perishing. It is vital that you have a system in place to check on stock water every day.

When moving stock into a new paddock, take them to the water so they know where to get a drink. Check that they are coming back onto the water in the next 24 hours.

Livestock prefer cool water in hot conditions. Burying pipelines underground and concrete troughs will aid in keeping their drinking water cool. Shade over watering points will also help.

Regular draining and cleaning of troughs is necessary to prevent problems such as contaminants, algae, and increased salinity reducing water consumption by livestock.

If you are watering from dams, check on the water quantity and quality, particularly as levels drop through the summer. Cattle like to stand in dams to cool off, which can foul the water.

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