Everyone dreads the hot days because they are uncomfortable, energy-draining, stressful, and can even lead to heat stroke. Extreme heat is understandably unpleasant, and as you find ways to stay cool, you must also care for your sheep by finding ways to treat heat stress in sheep because they are not exempted from its effects.
You must be prepared to help your sheep deal with heat stress when summer comes because it can impair their productivity. High temperatures alone are problematic for farm animals, but the situation worsens when your home experiences high humidity as well.
For a better understanding of heat stress in your sheep, let’s explore the signs, their tolerance to heat, and how to deal with it.
HOW TOLERANT ARE SHEEP TO HEAT?
Different people and animals have varying tolerance to heat, with some handling it better than others. For instance, goats and sheep are less vulnerable to heat stress compared to alpacas, cattle, swine, and llamas.
In addition, different sheep types are more tolerant to heat than others. For example, hair sheep handle heat more efficiently than sheep with wool. Moreover, fat-tailed sheep also have a higher tolerance to heat.
The sheep breed with the least heat-adaptive abilities is European sheep because they have dense fleeces, thick, short ears, shorter legs and bodies, and tight skin. Additionally, heat stress affects younger sheep more than older sheep, but geriatric sheep are highly susceptible to heat.
Also, horned sheep dissipate heat more efficiently than disbudded or horned sheep. Furthermore, extreme environmental conditions affect animals with compromised immunity or poor nutrition more than healthier, well-fed animals.
FACTORS INFLUENCING HEAT STRESS IN YOUR SHEEP
A range of factors influences your sheep’s susceptibility to heat stress. These are:
If the temperatures are above or close to the body temperatures of sheep, their ability to dissipate heat through convective cooling gets limited. Also, the ability of your sheep to lose heat via panting is lowered by high humidity. Furthermore, reduced wind speed makes your sheep more susceptible to heat stress.
Sheep are also at risk for heat stress during hot nights.
Sheep receive good protection against heat when their fleece is 30 mm to 40 mm. Radiant energy passes shorter wool easily, thus reaching the sheep’s skin.
Due to a lamb’s higher respiration rate, shorter fleece, larger surface area to mass ratio, and more heat production, they are more vulnerable to heat stress.
Pregnant sheep produce more heat late in their pregnancy, making them susceptible to heat stress.
Sheep breeds native to cool regions and with small ears, short necks and legs, and compact bodies are prone to heat stress.
10 WAYS TO TREAT STRESS IN SHEEP
Heat stress is a common problem in sheep, especially during hot weather. Here are some ways to treat heat stress in sheep:
1. PROVIDE CLEAN WATER
Access to clean, cool, fresh drinking water is essential to sheep, especially during hot weather, so ensure there is readily available water in your sheep’s containers or troughs. Consider increasing the quantities during prolonged periods of high humidity and heat.
Also, change your sheep’s waterers regularly. Typically, a sheep drinks an average of 1-2 gallons of water every day, with the quantities going up for lactating ewes.
In addition, water intake is higher if you have young sheep because of their rapid metabolism. Furthermore, forages during dry seasons have low moisture content, so sheep will need to drink more water.
Cool water will help protect your sheep from dehydration and also reduce their body temperature.
READ ALSO: Will Sheep Drink From Running Water?
2. PROVIDE SHADE
Sheep require a break from the scorching direct sunlight, which is where shaded areas come in handy. These include natural shade like trees, hay stacks, and bushes. You can also create artificial shade for your sheep, such as mesh fabric, tarp, or shade cloth.
Ensure all your sheep and other farm animals have sufficient shade. If available, a forested area provides an excellent spot for your sheep to lounge in when too hot. The sheep’s shade does not have to be permanent; you can use a movable, lightweight shade structure.
3. GOOD VENTILATION
Sheltering sheep in permanent structures like barns without proper ventilation when hot defeats the purpose since the heat will build up inside the structure. Sheep shelters require good ventilation for your animals’ comfort and overall health.
A practical ventilation system ensures adequate airflow through the barn, with cool fresh air from outside replacing warm air inside the shelter. You can establish good ventilation inside your barn naturally using windows or doors or mechanically by running fans.
A heavy-duty livestock fan will help cool your sheep; consider installing multiple fans if you have a large flock and more extensive facilities. Mount the fans above the ground to keep the fan blades from hurting your sheep and keep them from chewing the electrical cords. This will also ensure the sheep do not knock over the fans.
4. COOLING YOUR SHEEP WITH WATER
Unlike camelids, who will happily spend some time in shallow pools to cool down, sheep don’t particularly enjoy relaxing in the water. However, you can spray your with cool water using a bucket or a hose to minimize heat stress.
In addition, help your sheep cool down their legs by letting them stand in a water trough. Another way of allowing your sheep to cool down is wetting their faces with water; doing so will also encourage them to hydrate with the water droplets on their faces.
However, avoid drenching your sheep in water to avoid ruining their thermo-regulation.
5. AVOID HANDLING YOUR SHEEP
If possible, do not move, handle, or transport your sheep during the hottest days because that will make them stressed and overheat. If you must handle them, do it during cooler hours and do it quietly to avoid exciting them and, in turn, raising their heart rates.
Also, when hauling sheep during hot days, load them during the early hours and do not stop in the day’s scorching heat.
6. PROVIDE ELECTROLYTES
Electrolytes help replenish the lost fluids and minerals when your sheep are ill or stressed. Therefore, give them electrolyte supplements when they are suffering from heat stress to hydrate them and replace lost minerals.
7. LOWER FEED INTAKE
Sheep will generate more heat when they consume large quantities of feed, which may not be an issue on a typical day. However, it may prove problematic during hot days since it will make your flock hotter and more uncomfortable. Therefore, provide small, frequent meals throughout the day instead.
Sheep are protected from extreme cold and heat by wool. The insulating properties of thick fleece makes sheep immune to temperature changes. Research shows that an inch of fleece makes a sheep more comfortable than having less wool because wool fibers dispel heat rapidly.
However, excess wool makes sheep prone to heat stress during the hot months, so ensure you shear your flock before the onset of summer. Shearing sheep in spring allows them to grow enough wool to avoid heat stress and sunburns in summer and stay cool. Furthermore, by the time winter comes, your sheep will have sufficient wool to keep warm during the bitter winter cold.
Shearing lambs also boost their welfare and growth performance during summer when humidity and temperature levels are elevated.
READ ALSO: Should You Shear Before Lambing?
9. MONITOR CLOSELY
Although protecting your sheep from heat stress is better than treating it, sometimes avoiding it isn’t possible. Therefore, catching heat stress early is vital to proper sheep care, and you can achieve that by closely monitoring your sheep for heat stress signs, such as panting, drooling, and lethargy. Take action swiftly the moment you catch signs of heat stress in your flock to help alleviate their discomfort.
10. CALL A VETERINARIAN
Although you can monitor and help your sheep overcome heat stress by adopting some practical strategies like ample drinking water. However, severe cases of heat stress call for professional assistance.
In such cases, contact a veterinarian for assistance. They may recommend additional treatments, such as intravenous fluids, to help the sheep recover.
SIGNS OF HEAT STRESS IN SHEEP
a) HEAVY PANTING
Some animals, like sheep, pant heavily in order to cool off after strenuous activities or when it’s too hot. This activity entails rapidly dissipating hot air then inhaling cool air. The sheep’s body temperature is lowered when cool air touches the throat and lungs’ moist lining.
b) RAPID BREATHING
Your sheep may be experiencing heat stress if you find them breathing faster than usual. They do this to cope with the increased temperatures.
c) OPEN-MOUTHED BREATHING
Another sign of heat stress in sheep is breathing with the mouth open as the animal tries to increase airflow and, in turn, cool down.
Excess heat can quickly make your sheep dehydrated due to insufficient moisture. A dehydrated sheep will likely drool excessively.
Like humans, sheep experience a dip in energy when it is excessively hot. For this reason, sheep undergoing heat stress may become more sluggish and less active than usual.
f) LOSS OF APPETITE
If your otherwise foody sheep start refusing food or consuming less food and are perfectly healthy, it could be heat stress.
g) INCREASED HEART RATE
The heart rate of heat-stressed sheep may increase in an attempt to circulate more blood to cool the body.
h) RAISED BODY TEMPERATURE
Heat stress in sheep can manifest through elevated body temperature, which can signify dehydration and overheating.
i) SUNKEN EYES
Heat stress dehydrates sheep, which can lead to sunken eyes.
In severe cases of heat stress, sheep may become weak or collapse due to the strain on their body.
Sheep can also sweat when it’s hot, helping them lose some heat. The sheep’s skin cools through drying sweat.
Do not let your sheep suffer from heat stress when you can adopt practical strategies to alleviate the discomfort and suffering. Make sure they have access to drinking water when they need it, shade, proper nutrition, well-ventilated barns, and pay attention to your flock. Remember, heat stress can inhibit your sheep’s productivity, so it is imperative to deal with it early and prevent it when possible.