Human health precautions and regular checking of animals is advised with the increased temperatures over the coming weeks
Heat stress could become a serious factor not only for animals but also for people working during peak daytime temperatures. As farmers, we tend to often put the health of animals first, but it is important that health and safety of anyone working on the farm is given preference. With temperatures expected to be in the high 20s, the Health Service Executive (HSE) advises all farmers to apply suncream regularly throughout the day. Farmers should stay well hydrated and take regular breaks to avoid exhaustion.
TOP TIPS FOR FARMERS DURING A HEATWAVE
- Stay out of the heat between 11 am and 3 pm.
- Keep a damp cloth on the back of your neck.
- Eat cold foods.
- Drink plenty.
- Avoid excess alcohol, caffeine and hot drinks.
- Be watchful of others.
- Some prescription medicines can make us feel hotter. You should be taking your medication, but it’s important to take extra care to keep cool.
Symptoms of heatstroke
- Feeling faint and dizzy.
- Shortness of breath.
- Intense thirst.
- Cramps in your arms, legs or stomach.
Cool down as quickly as possible if you have these symptoms. Ring your doctor or pharmacist if you are worried. Ring 999 if the person has collapsed.
What to do if someone has heatstroke
Heatstroke can develop very suddenly and rapidly lead to unconsciousness. After calling 999:
- Move the person somewhere cooler, if possible.
- Increase ventilation by opening windows or using a fan.
- Loosen their clothes.
- Sprinkle them with water or wrap them in a damp sheet.
- If they are conscious, give them water or fruit juice to drink.
- DO NOT give aspirin or paracetamol.
Heat stress is particularly a risk in young calves and with animals exposed to peak temperatures without any access to shelter facing the greatest risk. Important visible signs of heat stress include:
- Reduced movement.
- Faster breathing rate.
- Open-mouthed panting.
- Decreased feed intake.
- Increased water consumption.
To overcome the risk of heat stress, farmers are advised to keep animals in well-shaded paddocks with access to water. Minimal moving of livestock is advised during the hottest parts of the day. Routines such as vaccinating or dosing should be done during cooler temperatures in early morning or later in the evening.
Pneumonia is another major health risk which farmers should be on the lookout for over the next few weeks. With high daytime temperatures increasing the body temperatures of animals and potential sharp falls at night, this could trigger a greater risk of pneumonia. While many farmers have vaccinated against pneumonia, those that have not are advised to keep animal stress to a minimum.
Summer mastitis is another ailment to be vigilant over the coming weeks. With animals seeking shelter under trees and hedgerows there may be a greater risk of fly activity and the onset of mastitis. If the problem is detected early and treatment is given in time, it can be treated quite successfully. Treating cows with a pour-on insecticide can help limit fly activity, while other options include applying stock tar or using ear tags that contain chemical compounds to ward off flies. Cows with summer mastitis will have a swollen udder with increased fly activity around the teat. The swollen udder causes discomfort to the animal, which results in stiffness and lameness when walking. The highest-risk animals are dry cows, heifers, autumn-calving cows and late spring calvers that are not being fully sucked by calves.
Ensuring safe transport of animals
- With temperatures forecast to reach close to 30°C, or even higher, this could present challenges and risks for animals transported in trailers.
A factor that is often overlooked during periods of hot weather is health concerns of transporting animals. It is important to note that temperatures can escalate when animals are transported in close confines, with livestock in such circumstances having difficulty in regulating body temperature. There are a number of factors that should be kept in mind when transporting livestock.
- Tailor the stocking rate accordingly: the normal stocking density of trailers should be altered where there is any potential risk or welfare concerns. The high-risk areas for animals are generally upper decks, while in rigid and articulated trucks there is often a risk of higher temperatures close to the cabin area. This is not a concern in most specialised units, with fans in place to regulate temperature.
- Check on animals regularly: when travelling long distances it is advisable to make regular stops to ensure that animals are not under stress. A significant risk for sheep, for example, is when one animal may lie down and have their airflow cut off by the animals congregating above it.
- Avoid peak temperatures: transporting animals early in the morning or in the evening/at night when temperatures are lower will deliver obvious benefits.
- Rest before transporting: where animals have been flocked and handled in advance of travelling, it is advisable to leave them for a period of time to rest before loading. Care should also be taken around loading and unloading of animals.
- Water availability: Where animals are transported short distances then water will not be an issue as animals can be offered water pre and post movement. Breeders transporting animals to shows or sales generally carry a supply of water when travelling during higher than normal temperatures. Articulated trucks used for transporting animals long distances or for live export are well set up to ensure temperature is regulated and water is available. These long-haul journeys also abide by strict regulations surrounding travel and rest timelines.
- Plan journeys wisely: planning journeys to avoid peak traffic times or to reach the destination in a manner that avoids any delay to unloading animals will reduce the length of time animals are confined.
- Shelter while resting: if the journey is being split to allow a rest period, trailers should be parked, if possible, in shade. All air inlets should also be opened when transporting animals to improve airflow.