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Kiowa, Colo.

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July 8, 2013
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Protecting livestock in the summer vital to herd health

Summer is usually a great time for livestock and livestock owners alike.

There is no snow to plow, or water to break.

However, care for livestock in the summer takes just as much work as it does in the winter.

Heat is the No. 1 stresser to livestock in the summer, and dehydrated animals can quickly die.

“Water is essential for temperature control, waste excretion, electrolyte balance, digestion and more,” said Danielle Nater, manager of Northern Colorado Feeder’s Supply in Fort Collins, Colo. “Fresh, clean water should be available at all times, especially for pregnant and nursing animals.”

Having access to water will help to keep animals cool and hydrated.

Water should be placed in the shade if possible, to keep the water temperature lower and easier for livestock to drink.

It also helps to keep tanks cleaner.

“Algae grows like crazy in water that receives direct sun,” she said.

Tanks should regularly be washed and cleaned out, to help prevent disease.

“Keep water troughs clean. Dirty water leads to illness, and clean water will encourage water consumption,” Nater said. “Inadequate water consumption can result in concentrated urine, which can increase the risk of urinary calculi in small ruminant, especially in hot weather. Urinary calculi occurs when stones form in the urinary tract and block the urethra, interfering with urination.”

To prevent this, supplements can be offered to increase water intake.

“Increase water intake by offering free choice salt. This will help dilute the urine,” Nater added.

Sickness can lead to dehydration.

“Diarrhea can quickly lead to dehydration in summer heat. Keep cool, clean water available at all times. Persistent diarrhea in young animals can lead to death if left untreated,” she said.

Pigs can be challenging in the summer, due to their inability to sweat.

If possible, pigs that are housed outside should be hosed off several times a day, or provided with a mud area for them to roll in.

This is crucial for temperature control, as pigs use evaporative cooling to cool themselves off.

An overheated pig will quickly die.

The next biggest problem area for livestock in hot weather is poor ventilation.

“Building ventilation is a must in hot weather,” according to Nater. “Cross ventilation, which brings in fresh air and removes stale air and odors, is preferred. Livestock don’t need luxurious accommodations, but they need more than a stuffy shed to protect them from sun or rain.”

Dirt floors for livestock are fine, as long as they are clean and dry. Most livestock don’t like to lie on a wet, dirty floor. Floors should be cleaned daily, for several reasons.

Ammonia from urine can accumulate in bedding, and breathing these ammonia fumes is harmful to livestock.

“Ammonia builds up quickly in summer heat. If you can smell ammonia from eight inches above the floor, your shed is overdue for a thorough cleaning,” she said. “A dirty shed with dirty bedding is an invitation to skin sores, mastitis, respiratory ailments, foot problems and more. These problems escalate in summer, so keep your livestock shelters immaculate.”

Another reason to keep shelters clean is to reduce the instance of pests.

“Warmer weather almost always guarantees an increase in the number of flies that can adversely affect livestock performance and health,” said Nater.

Sanitation is the key to decrease fly populations.

“Flies need manure and other materials for laying their eggs. Trampling and scraping manure, removing standing water and cleaning up spilled feed and silage go a long way toward lessening fly problems,” she said.

High-problem areas can be treated, as well.

“Several products are available to supplement sanitation practices. Residual wall sprays last three to four weeks and can be applied to areas where flies rest. Knock-down sprays are a quick but temporary method of fly control,” she stated.

Animals can also be treated with fly control methods.

“Approved chemicals applied by sprays, pour-ons, spot-ons and squirt-ons are effective,” she explained.

Some products last a few weeks, and others are shorter.

Fly-masks on horses can help to prevent irritation to the eyes, and body sprays can help control flies daily.

Long-haired or wooled animals such as sheep, goats, llamas and alpacas should be sheared before the summer heat sets in. However, producers should be careful not to shear animals too close, as a layer of hair or wool will help to protect livestock from sunburns. All livestock are vulnerable to stress when transported in hot weather. Care should be taken to make sure animals are comfortable and cool when traveling.

“Keep travel time to a minimum, and make sure to provide proper ventilation and keep the truck moving to prevent heat build-up,” Nater said. “Avoid transporting livestock in late gestation, stop to check them periodically in transit to make sure they’re not in distress, and build in plenty of time to rest, water and feed them along the way.”

When it comes to poultry, they should be cared for just like other livestock. “In the summer, beating the heat is a top priority. Severe heat stress can affect egg quality, size and hatchability. It can also increase the rate of mortality,” Nater stated.

She added, “Heat-stressed birds consume less feed, so meat-type chickens grow more slowly and hens produce fewer eggs.”

Feeding time is important in poultry as well.

“Avoid unnecessary activity. Don’t disturb birds during the hottest time of day. Digestion generates body heat, so feed during the coolest hours,” she said.

Water is also important, but with poultry such as ducks and geese, clean water is essential.

“Ducklings and goslings love to play in water and will quickly soil it. Use a dispenser that allows only their bills to enter. Put distance between feed and water dispensers to prevent cross contamination,” she explained.

Poultry also do not sweat.

“Birds don’t have sweat glands so they cool themselves by panting, which can alter their electrolyte balance. If you suspect heat stress, ask your veterinarian about adding electrolytes to water, she said.

According to Nater, signs of an unhealthy chicken include: less active than the rest of the flock, comb is pale and limp, breast is concave and the keel bone becomes prominent, liquid diarrhea, versus a semisolid green and white splotch, which is normal and unusual breathing or wheezing.

“Some panting is normal in hot weather, but not to excess. If one of your chickens exhibits any of these symptoms, talk to your veterinarian,” she said.

In late summer, poultry usually moult.

“Keep in mind, birds experience a major moult, or shedding of the feathers, in late summer, so don’t be surprised if they temporarily devote most of their calories to replacing their feathers and maintaining body temperature instead of producing eggs. Be sure to provide a good quality feed during this time,” she explained.

Properly managing livestock and poultry during the summer months can help to prevent disease, keep animals healthier, and reduce mortality.

Animals should be checked several times a day, and if heat stress happens, animals should be treated promptly. ❖


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