Heat Stress In Cattle: Identifying The Signs And Tips To Keep Your Cattle Cool

As the temperatures skyrocket across much of Australia we humans start cranking up the air conditioners, fans or visit our favourite body of water to find relief from the blistering heat. But what happens to our livestock during times of extreme heat and how can we help them avoid heat stress?

Heat stress can have a significant impact on the welfare of livestock and animal productivity, consequently, the cost to livestock industries can be significant. Reduced fertility, increased mortalities, increased metabolic disorders and treatment costs, resistance to infectious disease and less productivity are all significant consequences that can arise from heat stress in livestock. Managing heat stress is an important priority for successful animal production in Australia.

Sick, young and dark coloured animals are at greater risk of suffering from heat stress and particular attention should be paid to animals in these categories. It is important that producers are familiar with animal signs that indicate stock are suffering from heat stress. Here are a few visible signs to be looking for:

  • Panting (open mouth breathing)
  • Increased water intake
  • Reduced feed intake (loss of appetite)
  • Sweating and excessive drooling (salivation)
  • Protruding tongue
  • Increased respiration rate
  • Decreased activity, listlessness and lethargy
  • Unconsciousness (in severe cases).

Extreme heat causes significant stress on all animals including humans and measures have to be taken to reduce the impacts of high temperatures on all animals. Here are a few strategies that you can implement to help reduce stock suffering from the impacts of high temperature:

  1. Make sure stock have unlimited access to clean, cool water. Animals should not have to walk too far for water and when they are moved into new paddocks they should be shown where the watering points are.
  2. Stock need to have access to shelter from the elements. Adequate shelter can be in the form of trees with large canopies, constructed shelters and naturally undulating paddocks and gullies. It is important that there is enough shelter to provide all stock with shelter from the elements at the same time.
  3. During periods of extreme heat it is recommended to avoid handling and transporting stock unless it is absolutely necessary. If it is absolutely necessary, do so very early in the morning or late in the day when temperatures are lower.
  4. The act of digesting feed causes heat production and will contribute to the animal’s heat load. By providing stock with high quality feed that allows them to maintain nutrient intake without excessive heat production is a valuable management strategy that can be implemented. Make sure that feeding out occurs early morning or in the evening when temperatures are lower.
  5. If stock are confined to smaller yards, sprinklers can be used to cool animals during times of stress. Sprinklers increase evaporative cooling and can reduce ground temperature. (Dewell, 2019)

Heat stress negatively impacts on animal performance and can result in very important economic losses in livestock industries. Although we don’t have any control over the weather, we do have control and a responsibility to ensure the well-being of all animals under our care. Remember the best thing we can do for our animals in hot weather is to provide them with plenty of clean cool water, rest and shade (Hungerford, 1990).

By Shannon Godwin (BaAppSc GDTL)

Agriculture Victoria. (2019, January 24). Caring for animals during extreme heat. Retrieved from Agriculture Victoria: https://agriculture.vic.gov.au/agriculture/animal-health-and-welfare/animal-health/animals-in-hot-conditions/caring-for-animals-during-extreme-heat

Renaudeau, D., Collin, A., Yahav, S., de Basilio, V., Gourdine, J.L., Collier, R.J. (2012). Adaptation to hot climate and strategies to alleviate heat stress in livestock production. Animal 6:5, 707-728.

Dewell, D. G. (2019, January 29). Heat Stress In Beef Cattle. Retrieved from Iowa State University Veterinary Diagnostic and Production Animal Medicine: https://vetmed.iastate.edu/vdpam/about/production-animal-medicine/beef/bovine-disease-topics/heat-stress-beef-cattle

Hungerford, T. (1990). Ninth Edition Diseases of Livestock. Sydney: McGraw-Hill Book Company.