Helping Your Animals Handle Heat Stress
This entry was posted on May 24, 2014.
After the difficulties of the cold winter months, animal producers are glad that frigid weather is over for now. However, the weather patterns will soon be swinging to the other extreme when the blazing heat of summer arrives.
Heat Stress in Animals
Extremely hot temperatures are just as dangerous for animals as extremely cold temperatures can be. Those who raise pigs, chickens, and cattle must be aware of the effects of hot temperatures and take precautions to cool their animals off when a heat wave arrives. Watching your animals closely when the mercury soars will help you determine when you need to step in.
- Poultry: Chickens can't sweat, so they rely on panting to cool themselves. Their normal body temperatures range from 103 to 107 degrees Fahrenheit. If a chicken's temperature reaches 113 degrees, they are in serious trouble. However, even slight heat stress can cause chickens to stop laying eggs, stop eating, and produce inferior eggs. If they get too hot, they can die.
- Pigs: Pigs are extremely sensitive to heat. Even getting overheated for as few as two to six hours can upset the digestive systems of pigs, leaving them vulnerable to infections. Additionally hot pigs don't eat, meaning that they won't gain weight. Taking too long to get to market weight will affect your farm's bottom line. Pigs can't sweat, so they have to pant or wallow in the mud to cool off.
- Cattle: Cows, especially those with black hides, suffer tremendously in the heat. Their internal digestion generates heat as their rumen microbes break down their food. Hot cattle will demonstrate increased respiration, increased heart rate, and increased panting. They will not gain weight and lactating cows will produce much less milk when it is really hot.
Tips for Preventing Heat Stress
If you are a livestock or poultry producer, you must have a plan in place to combat heat stress. You could stand to lose hundreds or even thousands of dollars when the temperatures rise. Even if you don't lose an animal, they will be less productive when it's hot, meaning that you won't make as much money as you might otherwise. Therefore, you should consider using these strategies to keep your animals cooler during the hot months of summer.
- Water: Having plenty of water is essential to keeping your animals comfortable on hot days. Make sure that there are several water stations so that dominant animals don't keep the less dominant animals from getting all that they need. You may want to add some electrolytes to the water to help the animals maintain the appropriate electrolyte balance.
- Ventilation: If your animals are housed in barns, keep the air moving by using fans and opening every window and door that you can. If your barn is overcrowded, you may want to either find another place for some of your livestock or sell a few of your animals to help the rest of them stay cooler.
- Insulation: Many people think of insulation only when it's cold. However, using reflective bubble insulation can block the transfer of radiant heat from the outdoors to the indoors. Using this kind of insulation on barns, calf hutches, water tubs, and chicken houses will keep your animals much cooler and more comfortable during a heat wave. This is a very inexpensive way to combat heat stress.
For cattle producers, you may want to look into some technological advances to help monitor your animals. The University of Missouri has created an app called Thermal Aid to help cattle farmers monitor the effects of heat on their animals. With this app, you can input your cows' respiration. The app coordinates this information with current weather conditions to help you know when your animals need additional help in getting cool.