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Plan ahead to avoid heat stress and water shortages this summer

As summer temperatures start to climb, farmers are urged to start planning ahead to avoid water shortages and livestock heat stress.

With the climate trend towards higher temperatures continuing, extreme heat is likely to be a risk again this summer. Providing cool, clean water, and shade and shelter is essential for animal welfare, and will ensure valuable livestock have the best chance to cope with extreme conditions.

A good quality water supply is essential for stock on warm days, however surface water in dams and storages can quickly drop to critically low levels in hot weather.

Where livestock are relying on pumped water into troughs, farmers are reminded to maintain and monitor water infrastructure diligently.

“It’s easy to get caught out in the holiday period if a pump breaks down and the local merchandise store is closed over Christmas, so planning is critical,” says Senior Land Services Officer, Brett Littler.

Unless you are around to continually check water containers, water should be provided through automatic or reticulated systems. The number of watering points and the amount of water flow should be increased if a large number of animals are kept together, and troughs need to be firmly fixed so they can’t be tipped over.

“If you are feeding 500 weaner lambs, their daily water requirements are 2000 litres on a plus 30 degree day eating grain. If you don’t have a spare pump, you’ll need to have enough water in storage until the spare part arrives.”

Water consumption by sheep is about 40 per cent higher in summer than in winter. During drought conditions stock need even more water to cope with tough, fibrous feed. Water requirements can be further exacerbated by routine activities such as shearing which dramatically increase the heat load on animals. Sheep adjust to the heat load by increasing evaporative cooling through panting, and water consumption can increase by 78 per cent under extreme conditions.

In extreme heat it’s safest to postpone handling stock where possible. If unavoidable, jobs should be done early in the morning when temperatures are cooler.  Extreme heat causes significant stress for all animals. Keeping an eye on weather forecasts, and having a plan ready to ensure sufficient shade and a plentiful supply of cool, clean water will help prevent death and deterioration in valuable stock.

More information about water requirements and managing heat stress is available here.