Friday, June 25, 2010

Sue Weaver: The Heat Is On

Hot animals need shade.

Our animals are overweight. Nearly all of them are plump, but a few are quite obese. Several of my sheep fall under that heading; on Sunday one of them paid the ultimate price. On Sunday afternoon my beautiful Baatiste, Baasha’s last daughter, died from heatstroke, leaving behind little Sam, the five-week-old lamb born on my birthday. I am devastated. Blubber is no longer acceptable on this farm.

Excess weight predisposes livestock (and humans and pets as well) to the summer scourge of the South: heat stress. I thought it was enough to provide shade, cool water, and fans. It’s not.

Farmers and ranchers in our area are already losing livestock this year, mainly wooled sheep, llamas, and alpacas, due to an uncommonly early heat wave that has us in its fist. Yesterday’s actual temperature was 105.8 degrees with a heat index of 117, and it’s supposed to be hotter today. In June. Unheard of. Other parts of the country are unseasonably hot and steamy, too.

Panting is a sign of overheating.

I’ve been reading up on heat stress in animal species. I want to share what I’ve learned. Watching an animal gasping, slipping away, its eyes pleading for help, is no way to remember a friend.

First and foremost, don’t let your livestock get fat. My remaining sheep, the goats, and the llamas complain bitterly when a handful (instead of a generous scoop) of pellets composes their supper. “You have grass and minerals,” I tell them now. “It’s plenty.”

If you own a species requiring shearing or clipping, do it early. A short growth of wool or fiber helps insulate; a full fleece holds too much heat. Don’t let vanity stand in the way; llamas and alpacas must be clipped or shorn. Shorn isn’t as pretty as a full fleece, but it’s absolutely essential in this heat.

Don’t stress animals when the mercury soars and humidity ratings are off the scale. Ride your horse in the early morning while it’s cool. Avoid breeding for summer young. Trim hooves and vaccinate before the first hard heat of the year; if you must do it now, do it early enough in the morning that animals have time to cool off and relax before the heat of the day.

Provide ample shade and water — lots and lots and lots of water. Haul out extra water receptacles, and keep them in shady areas close to where your animals congregate. Add electrolytes to some but not all buckets and tanks; electrolytes help, but some individuals won’t like the taste. Keep the water cool. Freeze ice in good-size plastic containers such as margarine and cream cheese tubs, and drop mega–ice cubes in water containers periodically throughout the day. The object is not to create ice water, so don’t overdo; it’s to keep the water at palatably cool temperatures.

Even makeshift shade, like this tarp, helps keep animals cool.

Water for body cooling is important for some species, too. Pastured horses and cattle quickly learn to enjoy being hosed down and soon come to the fence for a cooling spritz. Llamas and alpacas appreciate sprinkler hoses and baby pools to wade or kush in (your livestock guardian dogs will love them, too). Make a moist sandpit for llamas, alpacas, and chickens to lie on; buy a baby pool or dig a wallow for a pet pig.

Baby pools make good cooler-offers.

Use fans. Box fans cost very little to buy and operate and can be suspended in stalls, pens, and chicken coops or even from fences, where sheep and goats quickly congregate to enjoy the breeze. One caveat: cover exposed cords, especially around oral species such as goats (split a piece of old garden hose lengthwise, insert the cord, then tape it back together with duct tape).

If you suspect an animal is overheating, act fast! Procedures vary by species, but the object is always to cool the animal quickly without causing shock. Bring a panting lamb or prostrate chicken into the air-conditioned house, and place her in a dog crate with a fan trained on it. Cool your horse by running water on his legs to acclimate him to cold water before spraying the rest of his body. If you spray species like sheep or llamas, start at the legs, and make sure the animal’s fleece is soaked all the way to the skin; surface wetting causes fiber to trap more heat. Hold bags of ice or frozen vegetables (peas are ideal) against the animal’s armpits or groin. But always, before doing anything else, call your vet!

In the meanwhile, please, follow the links below, and learn how to handle heat stress in farm animals before it knocks on your door. Be truly prepared. If I hadn’t let her get so fat in such a hot climate, Baatiste might still be alive today.

Baatiste and newborn Sam — rest in peace, Baatiste.

Sheep, fiber goats, llamas and alpacas (scroll partway down the page)
Goats and sheep
Dogs and cats

Sue Weaver sold her first freelance article in 1969. Since then her work has appeared in major horse periodicals, including The Western Horseman, Horse Illustrated, Chronicle of the Horse, Flying Changes, Horseman’s Market, Arabian Horse Times, The Appaloosa News, The Quarter Horse Journal, Horse’N Around, and The Brayer. She has written, among other books, Storey’s Guide to Raising Miniature Livestock, The Donkey Companion, and Get Your Goat! to be published in 2010. Sue is based in the southern Ozark Mountains in Arkansas.

Visit my Dreamgoat Annie Web and The Mopple Chronicles

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