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It is common to see all types of animals in the heat without protection from the sun. While farm animals have various ways of coping with heat, a very important one is to seek shelter or shade. Shade helps reduce heat loading from the sun, especially for dark-coloured animals that readily absorb heat. In the absence of adequate shade, animals will try to find any scrap of shade they can — it could be from a fencepost or another animal’s shadow.
Sheep are better off than cattle because their wool is a good insulator, protecting them from both heat and cold. But if shorn sheep are kept in yards or paddocks without shade, they have no protection from the sun’s rays and may become sunburnt and heat stressed.
Cattle lose their body heat by evaporation of sweat and by panting. Cooler temperatures under trees promote heat loss. Shade is as important in cooling as it is in providing protection from the sun.
Some cattle breeds are genetically more heat tolerant than others. However, heat tolerance is also behavioural. Cattle may deal with lack of shade by grazing and walking in the cool of the day or at night, and by standing still where there is good airflow to help evaporation.
The RSPCA believes that all animals should be provided, at the very minimum, with appropriate shelter, food and water. Shelter particularly refers to protection from climatic extremes. Animals have various mechanisms for coping with heat but the most obvious one is seeking shade.
In the absence of shade from trees, farmers need to provide livestock with other forms of shade for their physical comfort. Alternative shade can come from tarpaulins, shade cloth or sheds. Alternative shade structures must have good airflow or the heat will become intolerable and animals will be forced to leave the shade.
To replace the water lost in cooling their bodies, animals need plenty of cool, clean drinking water. When water becomes warm, animals drink less. Therefore, during periods of heat, it is important to check regularly and provide animals with fresh, cool water.