How to Combat Heat Stress in Sheep and Goats

June 2021 went on record as the hottest June recorded since data has been tracked. According to the experts, the rest of the summer isn’t looking to cool off much either. Excessive heat across the country means that your sheep flocks and goat herds are likely to experience some extra heat stress, especially when those soaring temperatures are combined with high humidity. Heat stress can take a negative toll on your herd and flock’s growth, performance and reproduction.  

Heat stress will impact livestock any time external temperatures reach 70 degrees and hotter for multiple consecutive days. However, every geographical region has its difference when heat stress sets in largely due to the humidity and the overall temperature heat index of the specific area. Additionally, each breed has its own degree of heat resiliency. Hair sheep and goats tend to be more resistant to heat and humidity, so breeds from a tropical climate like Katahdins, St. Croix and Barbados would be most heat tolerant. Dorpers are from a hot, dry climate, but still would be more resistant to heat than wool breeds. However, wool can help mitigate climate stress, during both hot and cold temperatures.  

Wool serves as an insulator from both extreme heat as well as extreme cold. A thick fleece serves as an insulator from extreme cold; however, research shows that a one-inch-thick fleece is more comfortable than less wool because the fibers actually help dissipate the heat. Spring shearing will typically allow for enough growth prior to summer to allow heat to escape the sheep’s body.  

Signs of Heat Stress  

As with any animal, some of the signs of heat stress include gathering up under shade or near a water source, decreased grazing time and going off feed. Other signs to look for are lack of overall energy, increased panting, drooling and increased respiratory rate.  

It is common for sheep and goats to shade up, especially if their water source is near the shade provided to them. You’ll likely see them out grazing early morning, but by mid-morning when the temperature rises, you’ll see them move to a large group under the shade, stop grazing and perhaps even start panting, when the combined heat and humidity makes it really hot.  

Be Proactive to Mitigate Heat Stress  

You can plan accordingly with the prevention of heat stress with the assistance of weather forecasting devices, some simple shade and plenty of fresh water. Shade can consist of natural shade like trees or manmade like barns or temporary structures. Be sure to provide shade in an area with good air circulation. If your shade is a hoop building or other enclosed structure be sure to provide good circulation. Use fans to circulate air, so the enclosed structure doesn’t add to the animals’ already elevated temperatures.  

Avoid working or transporting animals during the hottest time of the day. If you do need to work or haul your animals in the summer months, do so early in the morning or later in the evening to prevent unnecessary heat stress. Remember to look ahead to the long-range weather forecast to see if there is a cooler day approaching that might be more feasible for working conditions.  

Impact on Reproductivity  

Not only does heat impact the overall health of an animal, but heat stress can also be detrimental to the reproductive success of the flock or herd. Both the male and female’s reproductive systems are at jeopardy during excessive heat. Heat can have a detrimental impact on the sperm production and libido in the ram or buck, and also affect embryo survival and fetal development in the ewes and does. 

As many producers are breeding their females in July, August and September, it is important to keep their overall and reproductive health top of mind. Rams, including any wooly scrotums, should be sheared six to seven weeks prior to breeding season. Ewes are typically sheared prior to the onset of hot temperatures. If pasture breeding during extreme heat, consider keeping rams in during the day and turning them out at night during the cooler temperatures.  

Using a marking harness to monitor breeding activity in the summer months is also advisable. If a ram is sterile, he will remark the ewes; if he lacks libido, he will not mark the ewes. This is assuming the ewes are cycling during the summer heat, which not all will.  

Nutrition Factors In  

Keeping your flock or herd on a good nutritional plane will also help keep it healthy and performing.  

The DuraFerm® line from BioZyme® offers ideal mineral options for both sheep and goats, especially at breeding time. DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid® provides balanced levels of high-quality vitamin and minerals required for growth, breeding and lambing. It contains organic zinc and manganese, selenium yeast and high levels of vitamin E to support maximum reproduction and health.  

To help mitigate heat stress and help ensure your ewes get bred and stay bred during the hottest months of the year, you might consider DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid HEAT®. This Concept•Aid is formulated with the HEAT package, all-natural plant extracts research-proven to help maintain body temperature any time temperatures reach 70 degrees or hotter and garlic to help deter insects. 

For goat producers, a new DuraFerm Goat Concept•Aid Protein Tub is now available. This 50-pound tub contains breeding mineral with 20% natural protein for goats specifically designed to target cycling, embryo production and conception when fed 30 days prior to kidding through breeding.  

All DuraFerm products contain Amaferm®, a precision prebiotic designed to enhance digestibility by amplifying nutrient supply for maximum performance. It is research-proven to increase the energy available to the animal resulting in more milk production as well as the ability to initiate and maintain pregnancy and fertility. Simply, Amaferm increases intake, digestibility and absorption, getting the most nutrients from the feedstuffs provided.   

The final product in the DuraFerm line-up is the DuraFerm Sheep Concept•Aid Protein Tub. This cooked mineral tub includes organic trace minerals for more stability and 16% natural protein.  

Treatment of Heat Stress  

If your sheep or goats do get overheated, and chances are they will at some point, be sure to give them immediate attention. It is vital to check on your livestock regularly during the summer heat, regardless of the proactive measures you’ve taken.   

If you do find an animal that shows signs of extreme heat exhaustion, get them to a shaded area with air movement. Make sure to get them hydrated by offering them clean, cold, fresh water. You might have to add electrolytes or force them to drink with a drench gun to ensure hydration. You can also rub cool water on the bare area between their hind legs, and this will help cool them down. You should, however, avoid pouring water on them because that wool acts like an insulator and they won’t get cooled off.  

This excessive summer heat is no fun, but neither are low conception and lambing and kidding rates. Keep your flock and herd feeling its best with plenty of shade, ample fresh water and a nutrition program to help maintain body temperature and get your ewes and does bred. Strengthen your stock and try to set your own records this summer by providing nutrition from DuraFerm. 

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