March 4th, 2024

Caring for livestock in extreme heat a delicate balance

By SAMANTHA JOHNSON, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter on August 18, 2022.

When cattle, goats, sheep, swine, chickens, or other types of livestock are overheated, it can cause many negative effects. The animal can stop eating, eat much less, drink less and not want to move around much.

Dr. Melissa Moggy, Extension Coordinator at Alberta Farm Animal Care (, explained, “an animal might go down and not want to get up.”

“For large animals, like cattle, this can cause crushing injuries where their body weight is so heavy it is crushing them on the bottom. One of the reasons we try to monitor our animals as much as possible in these temperatures is to ensure they are not experiencing stress to that level. We want to try to mitigate that as much as possible.”

One of the effects that can be seen during hot weather is when a milking animal won’t produce as much milk. It is also harder to impregnate females as their bodies are already stressed due to dealing with the heat.

When AFAC talks to producers or even those who have an acreage with only a few animals, the signs of heat stress are similar.

“You are going to see an animal that is panting. Depending on the animal, that might look like the sides of their body are moving faster or they might have their mouth open and the tongue hanging out. They may also drool and froth at the mouth, rather like how rabies looks on TV, but this is because they are too hot and breathing so heavily,” stated Moggy.

As it can be difficult in some areas of Alberta and parts of Saskatchewan for animals to find shade, AFAC advises moving the animals before the heat wave arrives to areas with more shade. As not everyone has that luxury, offer the animals as much water as possible and ensure it is always available. An animal without water is one that will go downhill incredibly fast, says Moggy.

“We also instruct to avoid handling the animals when it is this hot,” said Moggy.

Moving livestock around in high heat can further increase body temperature. Feeding at dawn or dusk is also recommended as animals need to move around to feed. Those are the coolest parts of the day where the animal can still see the food. If at all possible, wetting the ground will also help keep them cooler.

“If you do have a small area of land with a few animals, such as chickens or pigs, the best thing to do is to keep them calm, not move them around much, and to provide as much ventilation as possible. Check the animals regularly throughout the day as getting overheated can happen quickly. Please call your vet if the animals appear to be in severe distress, they go down and can’t get up, they are flat out, they need medical intervention, they require intravenous fluids as opposed to drinking orally,” added Moggy.

The AFAC website has fact sheets available for heat stress in various types of livestock under their Resources/Printable Resources tab, as well as ways to avoid it happening.

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