Pay attention and protect livestock during heat wave


With summertime having arrived and high temperatures the norm across the U.S., it’s no surprise that livestock and pets can be at risk from extreme heat, Washington State University Extension experts warn.

While different livestock and pet species have specific needs, Extension experts share general suggestions to keep animals safe. They include:

  • Avoiding stressful handling of livestock. If necessary, only do so in the early morning hours or late in the evening.
  • Ensuring animals in barns or sheds have proper ventilation and air circulation.
  • Providing shade to animals kept outside, if possible.
  • Providing a continuous supply of cool, clean water. Water is very important, allowing animals’ bodies to cool off and stay cool. Sufficient water is particularly important for animals that are lactating or pregnant, to ensure health of nursing young as well as newborn animals.
  • Watching for signs of dehydration, such as lethargy, drying of the mucous membranes and eyes, or eyes that appear sunken and dull.

Clean water is also important. Excessive heat and stagnant water can promote blue-green algae growth, which has shown to be toxic to livestock, wildlife, and humans.

In times of heat stress, it may be necessary to reduce energy intake, such as from grains and concentrates, and increase fiber in the diets of animals such as 4-H steers and lambs. This can help mitigate heat stress.

In addition, endophyte-infected forages, such as fescue or infected crop residues, should be avoided, as they may exacerbate heat stress in cattle. Endophytes are organisms such as fungi and bacteria that live on forage crops.

Heat stress is made worse by high humidity. Animals find it more difficult to cool off in humid conditions. During and following heat stress, watch for signs of respiratory disease and digestive disorders in livestock. Wide temperature swings of 40 degrees or more between day and night can predispose livestock to infection.

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