Livestock don’t need to live in air-conditioned comfort. They are well-adapted to both the heat and cold of Arkansas. But, providing shade and cool water can help reduce productivity losses and make livestock more comfortable during hot weather this summer, said David Fernandez, Ph.D.
Fernandez is an Extension livestock specialist and interim dean of graduate studies for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.
As the days get hotter, animals spend less time grazing during the day and drink more water.Animals keep cool in a variety of ways. They reduce their activity levels and seek out shade, where they can often be found lying down, Fernandez said. They may pant, or in the case of horses and Brahman cattle, they can sweat. Drinking cool water also helps.
There are two primary ways in which animals gain heat: conduction and radiation, Fernandez said. Conduction is the result of heat transferred from an object to an animal when they touch. Animals lying on hot ground are warmed as the hot ground transfers heat to their bodies.
Radiation from the sun heats animals’ bodies. Darker colored animals absorb more heat than light colored animals, he said. Some animals have light colored hair but dark colored skin, so they can become warm much faster than you might otherwise think.
“I am always amazed by the number of people who ask me, ‘Do animals really need shade?’ while we are standing in the shade looking at their animals,” Fernandez said. “The answer is, yes, they do. Shade reduces heating from radiation and allows heat to dissipate from their bodies.”
Because livestock are warm-blooded mammals, they are generating internal heat all the time. Between internal heat generation and external warming on hot days, an animal can overheat, he said. Overheating causes animals to go off feed and increases heart and respiration rate. Severely affected animals can become weak and unable to stand. Extremely elevated temperatures (over 107 degrees F) can result in death.
“Livestock can often be seen standing in ponds to cool off. This should be discouraged or prevented,” he said. “Ponds contaminated by feces from animals standing in the water can transmit a variety of diseases including mastitis and several types of diarrheal diseases.”
As long as livestock have access to a mineral and salt supplement, preferably in loose rather than block form, they do not need electrolytes added to their water, Fernandez said. People lose electrolytes through sweat, but since most livestock do not sweat, this is not a problem for them.
Water should be as cool as possible, he said. Simply erecting a shade over a water trough or tank can make the water quite cold.
“Sheep growers often ask if they should shear their sheep to help them keep cool. Sheep with about an inch or so of wool are actually cooler than freshly shorn sheep, and they are less likely to get a sunburn,” Fernandez said. “So, if you must shear your sheep, do it in the spring so the wool has a chance to grow a little.”
Avoid working animals in the hottest part of the day. The increased activity can overheat their already hot bodies and cause heat stress, he said. Heat stress can cause impaired weight gains and even reproductive failure, especially in males. It can also suppress the immune system, resulting in outbreaks of diseases like pneumonia during especially hot weather.
For more information about this or other livestock questions, contact Fernandez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 870-575-8316.
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