How Does Weather Affect Sheep

How Does Weather Affect Sheep?

Healthy sheep that are acclimatised, and have their feed and water maintained, can usually tolerate a range of varying temperatures. 

However, it is important to consider weather extremes and vulnerable sheep.

For example, in extreme weather conditions, whether it is hot, cold or windy, sheep need more energy to simply function normally. 

And sick sheep, pregnant ewes and lambs are the most likely to be impacted by these conditions.

So, how does weather affect sheep? And what can you do about it? 

In this article we discuss the impact the weather can have on your sheep and steps you can take to minimise the impact. 

We also discuss the importance of providing shade and shelter for sheep.

How Does Weather Affect Sheep

How Weather Can Affect Sheep

As we have already mentioned, in extreme weather conditions sheep have to expend extra energy just to function as normal. This means they have less energy for growth and production, limiting their ability to reach their potential.

Sheep are also prone to cold stress (hypothermia) or heat stress (hyperthermia)

Pregnant ewes and lambs being most susceptible to these conditions which can cause issues such as higher lamb mortality and reproductive problems.

Recently shorn sheep are also vulnerable. For example, recently shorn sheep exposed to the sun can suffer sunburn and other skin reactions like facial eczema.

Heat stressed sheep tend to have a reduced appetite meaning weight loss and decreased feed efficiency. There are also changes to behaviour such as seeking out shade and increasing water, which you can learn about here

Hypothermia most commonly occurs in freshly shorn, light condition sheep during wet and windy conditions at any time of the year.” 

The natural reaction of sheep in cold weather can also make the situation worse as their mob instincts can lead to suffocation or drowning.

Essentially, prolonged exposure to extreme weather endangers the overall health and wellbeing of your sheep. And it can involve extra time, cost and resources to remedy.

So, what can you do about it? How do you prevent cold stress? Or heat stress? 

How To Minimise The Impact Of The Weather On Sheep

While we can’t control the weather, the impact of weather on your sheep can be minimised with preventative measures.
Here are some examples:
  • Provide quality and nutritious food and adequate access to clean water. Ensure it is in a familiar place.
  • Be aware of weather forecasts when putting recently shorn sheep and other vulnerable sheep into paddocks and exposed areas.
  • Time shearing where possible to prevent unnecessary exposure of recently shorn sheep to extreme weather.
  • Separate sheep in poor condition or with a history of respiratory diseases from the rest and make sure they have the required shelter, feed and treatment.
  • Actively monitor sheep for signs of heat stress or cold stress such as decreased eating and restlessness. This allows you to take aaction quickly before the condition escalates. 
  • Provide adequate shade and shelter in extreme heat and cold. This is especially important during lambing season and when sheep are in livestock handling yards or feedlots. Shelter could range from simple shelterbelts and open-sided, wind protected sheds in exposed paddocks, to yard covers and feedlot covers.
And, it is important to meet the basic requirements including food, water and shelter as set out in the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1986.
Providing Shade And Shelter For Sheep
Shade and shelter can play a a key role in mitigating the impact of the weather on livestock. 
In fact, there has been greater focus on providing shade and shelter for livestock  such as cattle and sheep  in recent years. This has been driven by industry bodies such as the Australian Lot Feeders’ Association as well as animal welfare activists.
There are a few key points to remember when providing shade and shelter for your sheep:
  • Wind flow is important in extreme heat as it allows sheep to be kept cool but protected from the sun.
  • There should be adequate room for all sheep to lie down to prevent crowding and smothering and in hot conditions, helping them cool down.
  • Ensure there is adequate water supply and close to the shelter.
  • Carefully plan positioning of water troughs to prevent crowding. 
  • Sheep should be sheltered in small mobs to limit grouping together around the shelter or water.
  • Protect sheep in holding yards with the use of natural and artificial shade. For example, young sheep left in yards for extended periods of time.
  • Ensure sheep in feedlots have shade and shelter that facilitates airflow and temperature control, and reduces humidity
  • Prioritise your most vulnerable animals.
  • Be aware of thermoneutral zones (equilibrium point between heat production and heat loss) of sheep. This is approximately 21 – 31°C.
So, that’s an overview on how the weather can affect sheep and what you can do about it!
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