With climate change significantly altering our habitats and weather patterns around the globe, it’s more important than ever to consider the implications of extreme weather on our livestock and practice good habits to reduce the implications associated with the elements. Ultimately, a farm’s health is only as good as the health of its plants and animals, so protecting your animals protects your farm.
Livestock are hardy animals that can withstand a wide array of natural conditions. As they spend a significant amount of time in the elements, livestock need to regulate their body temperature, metabolism, diet, and activity levels to stay healthy. Access to shelter protects livestock and enables their healthy behaviours.
Extreme weather affects us all to a certain degree; livestock are specifically vulnerable during periods of high heat or freezing temperatures. Whether you have the resources and shelter to permanently house your livestock or you can only shelter them for limited periods of time, there are best practices that will help you make the most of your available shelter and space.
How Do You Protect Livestock From The Cold?
With the cooler months, Mother Nature brings all kinds of precipitation, rain, sleet, hail, snow, and ice, along with the associated freezing temperatures and conditions such as frosts and flooding. All of these conditions can greatly affect the health, eating habits, and productivity of your livestock.
The implications of cold winters on livestock
Although many of our livestock are resilient creatures, they use a lot of extra energy to survive out in the pastures during the winter months. While winter grazing is a common practice among many experienced farmers, it does pose many challenges and risks to both the environment and the animals:
- Livestock may get sick from the change in diet from pasture to crops;
- Paddocks can become muddy causing health issues for the livestock, as well as pasture damage and potential runoff into waterways;
- Freezing temperatures cause livestock to eat less;
What your livestock need to thrive during winter
While there are a number of common sense steps you can take to protect your animals, New Zealand’s Animal Welfare Act states these are the minimum requirements for animal husbandry:
- Livestock have access to areas that are free of mud and surface water.
- Livestock have protection against adverse weather conditions such as storms.
- Animals are able to lie down and rest comfortably for sufficient periods of time to meet their behavioural needs.
While these requirements may also seem straightforward, in practice, ample planning and preparation are necessary to ensure your livestock are well-situated to ride out the worst weather conditions.
How to prepare your livestock for winter
- Consider a selection of different pastures and sacrifice paddocks to improve the effects of rotation grazing and give the rest of the land a chance to regrow and rejuvenate.
- Rotate crops, such as adding oats to the pastures right after the livestock is removed to reduce the amount of muddy terrain and improve the soil quality.
- Consider utilising treelines and windbreaks to lessen the impact of any extreme weather conditions.
- Create a buffer of between 5 and 20 metres from waterways to reduce runoff and contamination.
- Introduce portable troughs and back fencing to redirect livestock from walking around the paddock and improve their feeding efficiency.
- Invest in extra balage to ensure livestock are fed sufficiently especially during the coldest months, windy conditions, freezing rain, or snowfall.
- Transition your livestock carefully; consider their available shelter, ability to lie down on dry bedding, and their access to water.
- Develop an adverse weather plan for each grazing area to ensure animal welfare and environmental protection needs are met in any extreme weather.
- Make sure critical source areas are protected and accessible.
The Smart Solution for Rainy/Stormy Months in Winter
Using a covered Arena or similar product will keep your livestock herd protected. While livestock can continue to graze in pastures during the winter months, when you’re faced with adverse weather such as freezing rain and snow storms, it’s a lot safer, warmer, and more productive to keep them in a purpose-built SmartShelter.
Prepare yourself, your pastures, and your livestock for the increased extreme elements of winter for a successful winter grazing season with our winter grazing guide.
How do you protect livestock in warm weather?
High temperatures and extreme humidity can cause unnecessary suffering for your animals. During times of extreme weather, it’s important to monitor your animals to ensure they stay cool, healthy, and safe.
The implications of hot summers on livestock
Heat stress is a major cause of poor health in livestock. Understanding what causes heat stress and how to prevent it are an important part of raising and looking after animals. Keep a lookout for signs that your animal may be overheating; they may:
- Exhibit excessive panting
- Drool excessively
- Breath with difficulty
- Drink a lot of water
- Behave anxiously
- Show signs of weakness
- Act incoherently
- Collapse or start to seize
- Have bright red gums
- Vomit or have diarrhoea.
When dealing with excessive heat over longer periods of excessive heat, you may notice your livestock show signs of:
- Reduced weight gain
- Increased instances of infection
- Lower fertility, and increased miscarriage and birth defects
What your livestock need to thrive during summer
Animals have different tools to protect themselves from the effects of extreme heat. Many will seek out shaded areas such as trees and bushes or even each other; others may lurk in creeks or around rivers and lakes to take advantage of the cooling body of water.
When it comes to a managed herd of animals, you need good forward planning. Remember that prevention is always better than a cure, so your preparation can help avoid any serious issues when conditions are not ideal. Moving livestock during times of extreme heat can increase their body temperature and exacerbate the problems associated with heat stress.
How to prepare your livestock for a hot summer
During the hot and humid summer months, keep the following approaches to your livestock and their environment in mind to prevent heat stress and even fatal heat stroke:
- Develop a plan for days or weeks of extreme heat during the summer months.
- Provide shaded areas with good ventilation to maximise heat loss.
- Check your animals throughout the day for signs of heat stress.
- Ensure your animals have access to ample amounts of cool water.
- Avoid physical exertion during the hottest hours of the day.
The smart solution for extreme heat of summer
Shelter is especially important for very young or old animals or animals that are in poor condition or sick. If you’re worried about your animals overheating, SmartShelters have purpose-built solutions to keep your animals cool and healthy. Install a SmartShelter with sufficient airflow to keep your animal’s temperature at optimal levels during the hottest months of the year. Get in touch today to discuss a truly smart livestock shelter solution.
Prepare yourself and your livestock for the increased elements of extreme heat for a successful summer season with our guide on Heat Stress in Animals.
How does temperature affect livestock disease rates?
Increases in the frequency, severity and duration of extreme temperatures are anticipated in the near future as a result of global warming and the resulting extreme weather patterns. These changes will significantly impair animal production systems due to the deleterious effects on their health if we do not implement sufficient measures and practices to protect the animals and counteract the climate conditions.
Physiologically, livestock are homeothermic animals. This means that they respond to high ambient temperatures by increasing their heat loss through decreasing the internal heat production and increasing their surface heat loss. Actions such as sweating, increased respiration, and decreasing feed intake all serve to regulate their body temperature within a narrow range.
Unfortunately, as a result of the physiological changes that take place in adapting to temperature changes, livestock can develop significant metabolic disorders such as lameness or ketosis. Both of these conditions occur as a result of increased acidity in the animal’s bloodstream because of their compensatory behaviours and are potentially veterinary emergencies requiring immediate attention.
If you’re concerned about your herd’s well-being and want to ensure they have the shelter and resources they need to be healthy and happy, get in touch with the experienced professionals at SmartShelter today for a free, no-obligation consultation to discuss your options.