Animal welfare at the fair: Heat stress

Learn how to mitigate heat stress for animals during fair season.

Fan blowing on cows in a pen in a barn.
Fans and easily accessible fresh water are two tools to help keep animals cool during hot Michigan summers. Photo by Melissa Elischer, MSU Extension.

Maintaining good animal welfare and animal care is paramount in the 4-H animal science experience. Youth, volunteers and parents spend months preparing animals to show at fair or exposition, a unique experience for both 4-H members and the animals. In order to maintain excellent animal welfare during a fair or exposition, there are a few special considerations to keep in mind. This series from Michigan State University Extension will talk through several of these considerations. The first article explained thermoregulation and the thermoneutral zone, which is important to understand the topic at hand: heat stress.

Heat stress occurs when animals are unable to dissipate heat. According to Forecasting Heat Stress by the USDA, there are four important weather parameters that impact how animals experience ambient temperature: temperature, wind speed, humidity and solar radiation. This combination of factors plays a role in the overall heat balance of animals.

The best way to manage heat stress is to prevent it from happening. Here are some things to keep in mind to minimize an animal experiencing heat stress:

  • Have ample fresh, cool water available and delivered in a species-appropriate way.
  • Provide shade, sprinklers, fans or other species-appropriate methods to help keep animals cool.
  • Do not transport animals during the hottest parts of the day. If transportation is necessary, reduce the number of animals in a trailer, open all vents, do not stop—keep moving so there is air flow in the trailer—and do not deep bed as it will retain the animals’ body heat.
  • Do not exercise an animal during the hottest parts of the day. If exercise is necessary, keep the bout short and do not overwork the animal.
  • Do not push feed during the hottest parts of the day. Metabolic processes generate extra body heat; feed at cooler times of the day and expect lower feed intake.
  • Do not overpopulate or crowd pens. Animals lying together generates body heart.

Even with taking steps to mitigate heat stress, it might still happen. Here are important signs to look for:

  • Panting or open mouth breathing
  • Foam around the mouth or excessive salivation
  • Increased respiration
  • Increased heart rate
  • Lethargy
  • Trembling
  • Lack of coordination
  • No interest in food or water
  • Increased rectal temperature

As heat stress worsens, the animal may collapse, become unresponsive, have seizers or even die.

If an animal is showing symptoms mentioned above, steps must be taken to cool the animal down. Do not pour or rinse an animal with excessive amounts of cold water. This may seem like a good idea to help the animal cool down quickly, but it can actually send the animal into shock and make their condition worse. Here are some ways to help animals cool down safely:

  • Bring shade to the animal, do not try move the animal to a different area.
  • Increase air flow with fans.
  • Wet down the animal slowly and over an extended period of time with cool or lukewarm water; do not use cold water.
  • Administer a cool water drench orally (make sure someone who knows how to drench does this).
  • Add sprinklers so water droplets land on the animal’s skin. Misters may not work as the water droplets are too fine to reach an animal’s skin through the coat.

Check out these resources for additional information:

The next article in this series will talk about water consumption for animals during the fair.

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