According to the livestock industry and RSPCA, sheep, horses, dairy cows and heat stress in cattle at 25°C. As the temperature and humidity rises, so does their suffering. Around 30°C the heat stress is severe. By 40°C, animals can succumb to organ failure and die.
These reported temperatures however, are measured in a shaded box. In direct sun, the apparent temperature is much hotter; a 35°C day, can be more like 50°C.
Heat stress not only causes farm animals to suffer, it affects weight gain, milk yield, fertility. In a free-roaming environment, an animal’s natural behaviour is to seek shade – this isn’t possible when they are fenced in, so it is up to us to ensure they have some respite from extreme weather. Offering animals shade and shelter will also prevent expensive vet bills.
The most effective way of minimising suffering on a hot day is to provide farm animals with tree shade. Besides protection from direct sun, water vapour released from leaves can cool the air temperature.
I’m so grateful to the many residents in Hornsby Shire who treat their horses, sheep, goats, chickens and cows so well – most have access to tree shade, or shelter belts of vegetation around fence lines and some have a purpose-built shelter offering protection from the elements.
The majority of our residents lead by example in providing shade for farm animals, not because they have to, but because it’s the right thing to do. Sadly, in other areas, farm animals are not so lucky. Locked in fenced paddocks with no shade or shelter, they can’t escape the scorching sun.
That’s because a loophole in legislation and welfare standards says that shade and shelter ‘should’ be provided, not ‘must’. This one word makes it impossible to enforce the provision of shade.
I’ve asked our council to advocate for mandatory tree shade and shelter for farm animals at our Local Government NSW Conference in November; where councillors from across NSW come together to vote on policy positions for the whole of the state. The conference is an opportunity to look outside our shire border and ask, what can we do to make our state and country a better place.
Shade and shelter are essential for our survival – we even seek shade for our cars. It is only fair that animals who feel pain from extreme weather, have shade and shelter too.