Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Sheep and Goats Need Special Care During Summer Heat and Humidity

Contact: Dr. Jodie A. Pennington, region small ruminant educator
Headquartered at Newton County Extension Center, Neosho, Mo.
Tel: (417) 455-9500
E-mail: PenningtonJ@lincolnu.edu

NEOSHO, Mo. -- Management of sheep and goats in summer heat can be a challenging task for some producers, especially those producers with wool sheep, according to Dr. Jodie Pennington, small ruminant educator with Lincoln University Extension.

“The two most critical factors are to provide access to shade and water at all times for the animals,” said Pennington. “The extreme heat is compounded by the relatively high humidity that we experience here in southwest Missouri.”


Signs of heat stress in goats and sheep include bunching in the shade (if it’s available), slobbering, high respiratory rates (panting), high body temperature, and open mouth breathing.  In severe cases of heat stress, lack of coordination, trembling, and down animals may be seen.

“If you see many or severe signs of heat stress, minimize the stress immediately, but handle the animals gently to avoid increasing their stress even more,” said Pennington.

Some animals may be affected more than others. Animals with other stresses such as heavy lactation and past health problems may be more affected by heat stress. These animals will often be the first and the most severely affected in the herd.

Dark animals are more susceptible to heat stress than light colored sheep and goats.  

If an animal’s health problems are on-going, administer treatment with extra care and consider culling,” said Pennington.


One of the best things to do for goats and sheep is to offer shade and water.  Shade will reduce heat loads, and water will help dissipate heat.  

According to Pennington, water consumption is driven by environmental temperature. At 90 degrees Fahrenheit, water consumption may be almost twice that at 70 degrees and 50 percent greater than at 80 degrees.

“Always keep good quality fresh water in front of the sheep and goats,” said Pennington.

Heat stress can be lessened by providing water via sprinklers and using fans to aid in evaporating the water.  Use care with a sprinkler as misting can add to the humidity.  With sheep, water can make the wool less able to dissipate heat.

“Mature trees provide excellent shade (and shelter) and are usually the least-cost alternative. If natural shelter is not available, many sheep and goat producers use wooden or metal huts, plastic calf hutches or movable structures to provide shelter for grazing animals,” said Pennington.

Simple shade structures can be constructed from shade cloth, mesh fabric, tarps, canvas, or sheet metal. Movable shade structures are suitable for intensive rotational grazing systems.

“All livestock should be able to lie down in the shade structure or area at the same time. Lying down in a cool spot provides additional relief from the heat,” said Pennington.


Avoid overworking the animals if they are heat-stressed.   Body temperatures of sheep and goats tend to peak in the early evening, then decline in the night to reach a low point in the hours after sunrise, and then slowly building throughout the day.

Pennington says to work the animals in the early morning, and avoid afternoon/evening work when body temperatures are already high. If possible, under prolonged heat stress conditions, avoid working the animals at all.

“If at all possible, avoid transporting sheep and goats during periods of heat stress. If transportation can’t be delayed, do it during the cooler evening or early morning hours to avoid any additional stress,” said Pennington.

Goats tend to tolerate heat better than sheep.  Goats with loose skin and floppy ears may be more heat tolerant than other goats. Angora goats have a decreased ability to respond to heat stress as compared to sheep and other breeds of goats. The heat is especially hard on fat animals.


For more information about caring for goats or sheep, contact Dr. Jodi Pennington, region small ruminant educator with Lincoln University, at the Newton County Extension Center in Neosho, telephone (417) 455-9500 or email PenningtonJ@lincolnu.edu.


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