In cases of extreme heat, your livestock are vulnerable to heat-related illnesses, reduced production (milk, eggs, etc.), and even death if they are not cared for properly. In some ways, the principles of caring for your animals in heat are like those of caring for your animals in extreme cold. First, you need to make sure that all their basic needs are provided for.
Food and Water: How Much, and How to Give It
Here is a basic chart showing how much food common farm animals need to survive normally.
|Cattle||Around 2.5-3% of body weight in dry matter|
|Sheep||Around 1.5-2.2% of body weight in dry matter|
|Pigs||Around 4-5% of body weight in dry matter|
|Horses||Around 2.5-3% of body weight in dry matter|
|Goats||Around 5% of body weight in dry matter|
|Chickens||About 0.25 pounds of feed per day per chicken|
The biggest thing to note is that this is food intake in dry matter. Because most animal feed will contain some kind of moisture (around 10% is a safe assumption), you’ll need to factor that in when calculating how much to feed your own livestock.
The amount of feed should not really increase during extreme heat, but you should pay attention if you have any livestock whose appetite seems to decrease. This can be a sign of heat stress (which we will talk more about later).
Unfortunately, digestion of feed causes animals to produce body heat, so if anything is changed about your animals’ feeding routine, it should be the quality of feed used. This ensures that your animals are still receiving all the nutrients they need while also minimizing the amount of body heat they produce.
You should also change the time of day that you feed your livestock. They should not be fed when temperatures are at their highest. It’s best to do it early in the morning or in the evening, when it’s cooler outside.
Extreme heat will also cause your feed to spoil faster, so whenever possible, make sure that your stockfeed is covered and protected from the rays of the sun.
In extreme heat especially, your animals are going to require a lot more water. In fact, they may require up to two times more water than usual.
You will need to ensure that your farm animals have access to a source of cool, clean water at all times. Because your animals will be exposed to so much heat, you may find that you need to acquire additional water sources for them in order to keep up with demand. And unless you want to be checking on these water sources all day, it’s probably best if you have some sort of automated delivery system.
Keeping this water cool is also important. If you can, shade any water storage tanks or pipes that you have above ground so that the water in them does not become too hot. You can also shade troughs so that your water does not evaporate away too quickly (which would be quite a waste if you don’t have a large supply of water when SHTF) and so that your animals are not drinking water that’s been sitting in the sun for hours.
One thing to help with water temperatures, if you can’t shade your animals’ trough, is a concrete water trough. The concrete will stay cool enough that the water won’t overheat too quickly, and is also solid enough that your animals will have a hard time tipping it over. Regardless of what your troughs are made of, however, ensuring that they are fixed to the ground well enough not to be toppled over and safe enough that they do not injure your livestock.
Another thing to keep in mind is that your animals will be near this water source often, so you will need to either make sure that it is large enough to be accessible to all of them, or that you have your water sources spaced out enough so that any given animal can get water whenever they need it. Not only does it keep access open for all of your livestock, it also ensures that they do not crowd too much in one space, which can contribute to overheating. Be sure to regularly maintain your pipes, troughs, and other equipment so that it does not break down at a crucial time.
Finally, your water sources need to be close to your animals so that they do not have to walk too much in the heat. If at all possible, you should make efforts to familiarize your animals with the location of their water before extreme heat strikes.
While it may seem a little backwards, livestock like cattle, horses, goats, and sheep should be given a salt block alongside their feed, or in a separate bucket, during extreme heat. As humans, we generally think salt makes us thirsty, so having less of it when we’re hot would make more sense, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case for livestock.
These kinds of livestock do not generally get as much salt in their diet as humans do; therefore it is usually necessary to supplement their diet with minerals and salt. In extreme heat, it is important to supplement your animals’ diet with salt because they will sweat out a great deal of it. Just like in humans, this can cause a variety of health problems.
Most people offer their animals a salt block free choice so that the animals can supplement as needed. You should be sure that this is only sodium chloride (white salt), because livestock like sheep can be sensitive to trace amounts of other minerals.
Keeping Your Animals in the Shade
As often as possible, you should strive to keep your animals in a shady, well-ventilated area during extreme heat. This may involve installing windows, fans, or other ventilation systems to keep your buildings cool. Some people may even run cool water across the roofs of their buildings to provide cooling.
Of course, some people even have fully air-conditioned buildings for their animals. However, as important as air conditioning your buildings may be, it can be tough to power such systems, especially in the event of a disaster. It’s a good idea to find some natural ways to keep your animals cool in case you experience a power outage and can’t run fans or air conditioning.
Again, you could always install windows to improve ventilation, but there are other ways to keep the temperature down inside as well. If you have the space for it, you should make sure that your animals are not overcrowding any one area (indoors or outdoors), because this will raise their body temperature. You might consider building earth mounds to prevent this.
You can also construct your shelters in a way to reduce how hot the inside becomes. For example, aluminum or galvanized steel (steel coated in a layer of zinc to prevent rust) works well for the roof of a shelter because it reflects the rays of the sun. You could even plant trees to provide shade with a canopy of leaves (which will absorb a great deal of heat).
However the shelter is built, it should allow wind to pass through without difficulty, which will help immensely in keeping your animals cool. It also needs to be big enough so that animals can lie down, which will preserve their energy and help them cool down.
A good sign that you need something bigger is overcrowding. In fact, you may have to divide your livestock into smaller, more manageable groups so that you can ensure that every animal has access to water and that none of your animals are overcrowding an area.
Finally, you’ll want to take measures to decrease the presence of biting insects in warm weather. Flies and mosquitoes are more active in the heat, so try to make sure that you avoid long-term standing water, excessive manure or mud buildup, and an overabundance of weeds and brush. Animals might move around more trying to avoid these insects, which causes extra overheating.
This piece is pretty simple, but very important. Your livestock should not be over handled in extreme heat, because working them will cause them to produce body heat. If it is absolutely necessary to handle or transport your animals, strive to do so in the early morning or evening.
Overhandling your animals while it is hot outside can cause significant losses to their production. If you’re relying on your cattle for milk, your chickens for eggs, and more, then making sure to reduce how often you handle your animals in the heat is vitally important.
After handling your animals, you can help reduce their body temperature by spraying or sprinkling them with water. In fact, sprinklers can be a key way to reduce the body temperature of your animals during heat. You can even create small pools of water for your animals to stand in, which also helps keep them cool.
Heat Stress and Sunburn
At all times during periods of very hot weather, you should be looking for signs of heat stress, which can include: loss of appetite, lethargy or unresponsiveness, increased respiration or panting, increased water intake, increased salivation, lack of coordination, increased urination, open-mouthed breathing, and overcrowding. Animals can even become unconscious if the heat stress is high enough.
If your animal is heat stressed, you should move them to the shade or give them shade where they are. Provide water for them to drink in small amounts. You can then sprinkle them with water to help cool them down, or lay a wet towel over them for a similar effect (except for chickens).
If you have young livestock, livestock with darker fur, or livestock with any history of respiratory illness, they may be more susceptible to heat stress. Your animals are also susceptible to sunburn, especially animals with any pink skin or sheep that have just been shorn. Try to keep them in the shade as often as possible to prevent this.
Some Notes on Specific Animals
In addition to the general guidelines for keeping your livestock cool in extreme heat, there are also some species-specific guidelines that you should take note of.
- Cattle – Because they are such large animals, you will want to make sure that they move as little as possible to avoid them generating too much body heat. They should not have to go far to be milked, fed, and watered, and should be allowed to take their time, especially, drinking water. You will also want to make sure they don’t overcrowd one area. Cattle are prone to increased respiration when heat stressed, so if any of your cattle are breathing especially fast, you should try to cool them down. This can be done with sprinklers, allowing them to stand in water, or putting a wet towel over them (they will need to be wet to the skin for these methods to work well). Milk production can decrease significantly if appropriate precautions are not taken.
- Sheep – While you certainly do not want your sheep coated in a thick layer of wool for hot weather, you also don’t want their skin to be too exposed to the damaging rays of the sun. This is why most farmers shear their sheep in the spring – by summertime, there is enough wool to prevent sunburn, which helps keep the sheep cool.
- Pigs – Unlike other livestock, pigs are unable to sweat, which is why they are much more prone to heat stress and sunburn than other animals. During extreme heat, you should limit severely how often your pigs are exposed to the sun, and make sure to provide other ways that they can keep cool. One way to do this is with a mud hole, which has the dual-effect of allowing your pigs to roll around in something cool, and coating their skin with a layer of dirt to help prevent sunburn. You will have to take care to control the insects, but this is the best way to help your pigs stay healthy in extreme weather. You can also reduce their feed intake to try to prevent too much of an increase in body heat, but you’ll need to make sure they still get the nutrients they need.
- Chickens – Chickens should not be wet down like other livestock (at least not in the same way), which makes cooling them a bit trickier. Not only that, but your chickens will likely spend a lot of time in nest boxes, which can become heat traps.
Perhaps the best way to care for your chickens is to make sure that their coop remains cool inside, whether that be by foggers, ventilation, or some other system. They should have enough space so that they do not overcrowd, and their nest boxes should be roomy enough that heat is not trapped in one area.
- Horses – As useful as your horses may be for work, you should not exercise them too often so that they do not overheat. If you have to work them, do so during the cooler hours, and wet them down after to reduce their body temperature again. Just make sure that there’s not excess water on their coat when you are done, as the water can act as an insulator and heat them up again.
Keeping your animals cool in extreme heat is by no means easy, but it is necessary for the health of your animals. In a SHTF situation, they may be extremely important (and difficult to replace) sources of food, so ensuring that they live healthy lives is directly beneficial to you.
Above all, pay attention to what your animals are telling you. If they’re showing signs of heat stress, you should take action immediately to reduce their body temperature. If not, be sure to maintain your facilities and equipment so that heat stress does not become a problem in the future.