Summer is here, and so is the heat. As county fairs and livestock shows get underway, it is important to be mindful of the heat in regard to the safety and wellbeing of your animal. Heat stress goes beyond simply checking the forecast for the day. As you and your family prepare your animals, there are some valuable considerations before heading from pasture to show pen.
Temperature isn’t the only factor that contributes to heat stress.
As livestock producers, we tend to pay the closest attention to environmental temperature as the major contributor to heat stress in our animals. But humidity is another important factor to consider. The Temperature Humidity Index (THI) represents the combination of air temperature and relative humidity. Even on days where the environmental temperature stays the same, more humidity affects the THI and makes conditions worse for the animal.
Here’s how you can calculate THI:
THI = (Dry bulb temperature °C) + (0.36 x Dew point temperature °C) + 41.2
Signs of heat stress can vary depending on the type of animal.
Pigs and cattle are more at risk for heat-related illness than other livestock. Goats and sheep are still at risk but are not as susceptible.
- Respiratory rate – faster breathing or panting versus a normal respiratory pattern
- Core body temperature – rectal temperature showing 2° above normal temperature
Tips for reducing the effects of heat stress with show animals:
1. Air movement
Use fans to help get air moving around your animal to at least 4-6mph (faster in some cases when the air temperature is extremely high). Use evaporative cooling to improve the use of fans by spraying your animal with water before allowing the fans to blow across them. It is important not to mist, but to soak the animal’s back and head. This can be easier in some species than others. For instance, the lanolin in sheep wool can make it difficult to get water to their skin. This can also be the case with beef cattle.
2. Water availability
Animals’ water consumption in hot weather conditions will increase 50-100 percent. A clean supply of water should always be available to help reduce the risk of heat-related illness.
When animals start to show signs of heat stress, it’s important to get them cool as quickly as possible.
The first thing you should do when your animal shows signs of heat stress is to put it in a wash rack and start running cool, continuous water over its back and head. Running a fan during this time also helps quickly lower the animal’s temperature.
In emergency situations, veterinarians use alcohol to increase the rate of cooling, because alcohol evaporates faster. For severe heat stress, veterinarians use water enemas to try to cool the animal’s internal temperature as well as intravenous fluids.
Animals can experience the most heat stress during transportation to and from livestock shows.
When getting ready to move your animal from the barn to the show, consider what time of day you are going to transport and how long your animal will be in a trailer. The heat from the sun increases the temperature inside the trailer. It might be best to travel early morning or late evening to ensure the heat from the sun is at its lowest. Water availability and additional fans running on the trailer during transport are also key to keeping your animal healthy.
Although it is a tough decision, it might be best to keep your animal home to stay healthy.
After putting countless hours into raising your animal, it’s not an easy choice to face when your animal begins to show signs of heat stress leading up to a show. Consider your animal’s health first when making the decision to show, and ask yourself:
- Is my animal already showing signs of heat stress?
- What are the risks of putting my animal in less than ideal conditions?
- Am I able to provide appropriate care during extreme heat?
- What is my plan for keeping my animal healthy at the show?
Aaron Fisher is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. He provides leadership to the Indiana 4-H Animal Science projects and develops opportunities for Indiana 4-H youth to learn about animals and agriculture.
Jonathan Townsend, DVM, PhD is an assistant clinical professor and director of Extension programs in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Purdue University. He grew up on a small dairy farm in Maine and has worked in private practice as a dairy practitioner and in industry as a technical services dairy nutritionist.
Arin Weidner is a 4-H Extension Specialist for Purdue Extension. She supports Indiana 4-H programming with the creation of technology-facilitated curriculum and learning opportunities through partnerships with Extension staff and faculty.