Beat the heat: Avoiding heat stress in livestock

Like it or not, in most of the northern hemisphere, temperatures are slowly creeping up as summertime makes its grand entrance. During this season, hot and humid weather can be dangerous for both humans and animals, especially livestock, who don’t usually have the luxury of stepping into a refreshing, air conditioned building.

What is heat stress?

Heat stress happens when the body is overheated. It’s not just high temperatures that can cause it — high humidity also plays a role.

In humans, heat stress can cause heat stroke, exhaustion, cramps and rashes. In livestock, it can cause negative health effects and also lead to a decrease in productivity — or in the worst cases, death.

What are the signs?

Animals going through heat stress might begin panting or breathing with their mouths open in an effort to stay cool. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that animals may begin to drool excessively, group together and remain standing for a long period of time as heat stress continues. Once heat stress reaches a dangerous level, animals may isolate themselves, slow down their breathing and keep their heads down. Some may tremble or fall over.

How to keep animals cool

As soon as any signs of heat stress are noticed, it’s important to take action quickly. Here are some ways you can avoid the problem:

  • Provide plenty of water, and make sure it stays cool. Animals may not drink much if water is over 80°F.
  • Ensure that shade is available to livestock.
  • Try to avoid working or moving animals during the hottest times of the day.
  • Feed cattle in the afternoon. That way, when their body temperature increases as they ferment their feed, cooler night temperatures will prevent harm to the animal.
  • In barns, use ventilation and/or sprinklers to maintain cooler temperatures.
  • Lay down straw for animals to lie on, which may be cooler than hot, dark earth.

For more information on heat stress in animals, check out these tips from Neogen’s Dr. Joe Lyman.

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