Summer Livestock Management Basics
Keep your animals comfortable when the heat’s on with tips for summer livestock management.
When hot weather hits, humans have air conditioning, swimming pools and ice cream shops to help us keep cool, but what about livestock?
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Last summer’s heat wave left many of us with an increased appreciation for cooler weather. If you, like us, had the good fortune to spend July and August under that little weather novelty known as the “heat dome,” 2011 was an exercise in creatively keeping cool. Humans have air conditioning, swimming pools and ice cream shops to help us keep cool, but what about livestock? How do they adapt and take care of themselves during such extreme heat? And what livestock-management techniques can we use to help?
How animals keep cool in high heat
Like humans, some livestock tolerate heat better than others, and each species has adaptive strategies that help it manage the high temperatures. Sheep and goats tend to tolerate hot weather quite well, especially fat-tailed breeds of sheep such as the Karakul. The wool coat, which to us looks profoundly uncomfortable during the summer months, provides wonderful insulation against extreme temperature; the heat never makes it down to the sheep’s skin. Shearing in the spring before the onset of hot weather will prevent the sheep from experiencing sunburn, which would be a risk if they were sheared in the heat of the summer.
Horses have a nearly legendary ability to sweat, and as long as they are not being asked to perform intense physical activity during the heat of the day, they generally tolerate hot, humid weather well. The sweat allows them to take advantage of natural ventilation, via wind, and they can be seen comfortably grazing on hot days when other animals have retreated to the shade.
Cattle, on the other hand, have a limited ability to sweat, and therefore need shade and ventilation to keep cool. They will actually increase their respiration rate in order to try to get rid of more heat. Cattle breeds with lots of floppy skin, such as the Zebu or Ankole-Watusi, handle heat well because the loose skin provides extra surface area for cooling. Breeds such as the Pineywoods, Texas Longhorn and Florida Cracker have been shaped by their environment to handle heat stress quite efficiently as well.
Like cattle, pigs have limited sweat glands. While panting is not a very efficient method of cooling for them, they have learned to cool themselves by wallowing in mud. The phrase “happy as a pig in mud” is quite accurate, but “sweating like a pig” is nowhere near true.
Domestic rabbits are another species that need to be carefully monitored during extreme heat. They don’t sweat, and they rely on panting and radiating heat through blood vessels in their ears to cool themselves. Breeds such as the American are known for their large ears, which give them a big advantage in hot weather.
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