Fair Season and Livestock Stress
By: Kelly Whitcomb
As we continue through fair season and face the last few hot and humid weeks of summer, it is wise to keep in mind the risk of heat stress in livestock and the ways in which it can be avoided. Learn the signs of heat stress, the effects on your animals, and how both farmers and exhibitors can prevent such issues.
Knowing signs of heat stress is just as important as knowing how to prevent it. When animals are battling heat stress, their appetites will drastically decrease while their thirst skyrockets. Livestock will act lethargic or uncoordinated when moving about. The animals will have rapid, shallow breathing, often panting with their mouth open. Their tongues may hang out with excessive salivation, which can also be accompanied by profuse sweating. Most obviously, they will have high rectal temperatures which should be checked by the farmers frequently.
Taking animals to the fair immediately elevates their risk of stress by placing them in an unfamiliar or uncomfortable environment, especially when heat and humidity are high. The ways in which the animals are trailered, handled and housed have great impact on stress levels and health condition. By taking notice of these things, we can create a much more enjoyable fair experience for both farmers and their livestock.
Prior to trailering, there are a few key steps that will minimize stress and idle time with the animals. Make sure the trailer has been properly cleaned and disinfected in order to avoid the risk spreading of illness off the farm. Put down clean bedding for the animals, such as sawdust or shavings, and make sure all ventilation holes are clean and open. Avoid using straw as a bedding because it’s acts as an insulator to trap heat inside, and in some cases it’s appropriate to slightly dampen the bedding or use frozen water bottles to cool the trailer. The less amount of time on the trailer the better, so make sure to pack everything beforehand and have animal health documentation ready to go.
When trailering, be sure to keep moving to optimize air flow and minimize heat buildup for the animals. If needed, gently spray the animals with water before leaving to create a cooling evaporation when moving. It’s important to leave plenty of time for loading and unloading in order to minimize handling stress of the animals, and be sure to hydrate them before and after transport. Livestock should be transported during the cooler parts of the day, either early in the morning or later in the evening when temperatures and humidity are low. And lastly, don’t overcrowd the trailer by transporting only as many animals as needed.
Barns at the fair can be crowded, stuffy and uncomfortable if not managed appropriately. Livestock will need adequate air flow, shade, and clean water to avoid heat stress and discomfort. If the animals are not placed in a barn with provided shade, use coverings (such as a tarp) to provide a shaded area for them to rest. If the barns don’t have significant airflow, use fans to create movement and push air through. Make sure the animals always have a clean water supply in an easily accessible area, trying to avoid making a huge mess of their pen or stall; sometimes electrolytes are needed to entice the animals to drink. Furthermore, group animals with significant space or distance in between them to minimize heat and humidity accumulation.
Inappropriate handling of the animals is another way to trigger stress. Both farmers, as well as the exhibitors, need to practice humane behavior around the animals while also taking notice of their body language and what may make them feel threatened. Animals should not be poked, slapped, kicked, yelled at, etc. and exhibitors need to respect the rules of the farmers for their livestock being shared.
Keeping in mind the risk of heat stress for livestock at the fair, the clinical signs, and how to prevent it can all contribute to a safe, healthy and enjoyable fair season. Animals need shade, adequate air flow, space and cool water to remain comfortable. Both farmers and exhibitors practicing good animal husbandry will also influence a positive experience for the livestock.