Heat Stress in Livestock

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It’s May, that time of year in eastern North Carolina where we get rain, clouds, sun, and wind over the course of 4 weeks. Our temperatures are starting to warm up and while it isn’t “hot” yet, I want to share some tips to prevent heat stress BEFORE you need them.

Heat stress can be extremely hard on your livestock, especially with the high humidity we often experience in eastern NC. The level of stress really depends on the condition of your animal, the activity level, coat cover and color, and disposition. The effects of heat stress range from a reduced feed intake, which in turn results in reduced weight gain, to changes in behavior and possible death. Poor breeding efficiency and lower milk production are often common effects of heat stress in livestock as well.

So what should you be looking for in your animals as the temperature, and humidity, increases? Signs of heat stress include: bunching in the shade, slobbering or excessive salivation, panting, lack of coordination, trembling, and many more. If you are observing your animals regularly you should spot these signs early; if you know it’s going to be a hot day, make sure you check your animals more often. The water requirements of animals increase as the temperatures increase; often at 90° water consumption is doubled from that at 70°. It is extremely important to make sure your animals have access to clean, fresh water at all times.

If the heat index reaches above 115°, you should avoid moving or handling animals if possible. A heat index above 120° means no animals or humans should be involved in activities due to the increased risk of serious health risks and possible death. In general, you should work your animals in the early morning vs late afternoon or evening to avoid heat stress.

There are several ways you can reduce the risk of heat stress in your livestock by simple management changes. Shade is imperative! Trees, buildings or sunshades can all provide sufficient shade for your animals. If the temperature is still not cool enough inside buildings, wetting the roof can help lower the temperature where animals are being housed. Clean and cool drinking water is essential to keeping the animal’s body temperature within a normal range. Gradually wetting the animal with cool water may help decrease the severity of heat stress symptoms.

Keep all of these things in mind as the temperatures continue to increase over the next few weeks. Just like you can suffer from heat stress, so can your livestock! Please pay attention to your animals and observe them for any heat stress symptoms. As always, call the extension office with any questions but if your animal is truly suffering and you don’t know what to do, call your local vet.