When temperatures start to decline, especially during such a time when it is raining heavily in almost all parts of the country, it is time farmers begin to think about the effects the weather changes may have on livestock health, efficiency and productivity.
Of course farmers cannot be able to control the current weather changes, but they can possibly do everything reasonable to protect their animals.
Cows, pigs, chicken and goats, among other animals, need some closer attention during this period. Forget about their ability to maintain their own body temperature or their tolerance to cold.
Animals do not require any extra energy to maintain their body temperature when the surrounding environmental temperature falls within the ‘thermoneutral zones,’ which is the comfort zone.
The thermoneutral zone is where the environmental temperature range allows for maintenance of normal body temperature and base heat production.
However, with the ever pouring rains, the environmental humidity is affected, with temperatures sometimes falling way much below the ‘lower critical temperature’ such that the animals start experiencing stress.
This calls for the animals to respond accordingly by modifying their behaviour, for instance by seeking shelter or increasing their metabolic activity rates in attempt to manage their body temperatures.
Therefore, their dietary requirements increase, especially for those feeds with energy content.
Simply put, they require eating more quality feeds, especially for cows, because of their increasing demands for energy to adjust to the conditions and maintain a positive energy balance.
For the cows, if the animals do not get additional quality feeds, they do not meet the required energy, thus use body reserves to produce metabolic heat and maintain vital body functioning at the expense of high milk production.
This, certainly, has a negative implication on weight, as they start losing it as they use plenty of fat stored under their skins leading to a thin insulating material making them more susceptible to cold stress.
Such a situation is worse for heifers as they can calve in poor body conditions, thus, experience difficult calving and give calves that are weak or low in weight.
Sometimes calf mortalities become frequent during such a time. It further implies that the mothers or dams have low milk production and delay return to heat hence lower reproduction rates.
PAY ATTENTION TO AFLATOXINS
Other than the effects on animals, heavy downpour leads to difficulty in baling hay, keeping animals feed dry and paying attention to aflatoxins.
Store animal feeds in a dry place. In particular, hay is likely to get mouldy if it is rained on.
This reduces the quality of the feed and other forages resulting to poor intake by animals and high toxicity risks.
Silage and manure should also be kept away from rain and surface water run-off. Silage is likely to cake if not well-kept hence cannot be fed to dairy cows. Manure should be piled in a store to avoid leaching of important components.
All said, take appropriate steps to ensure that animals maintain body temperatures and gain the desired weights. This will save you from spending on what you could have simply avoided.
The following are management measures you should take during this rainy season:
- Always keep cows clean and dry; Cleanliness can be an issue this period but you have no excuse. Coats with dirt and moisture have lower insulation value, making animals more susceptible to cold stress.
- Increase the rate of feeding during cold weather; If possible, provide additional grain and hay. Where only wet feeds are available, ensure they are not frozen.
Where animal units are not set up, protect them from harsh winds.
- Ensure adequate dry bedding material for your animals; Dry sand may not be anywhere around but you can use dry straws or cow mattresses. Animals need dry bedding material for resting because wet, damp or soiled bedding contributes to health problems.
- Animals still need water during this period; Cows, especially, need water to be availed at all times since reducing it will limit feed intake. The water should, however, not be frozen or excessively cold.
- Where water is stagnant, create diversion ditches to drain it away from livestock facilities or the sheds; Due to damp conditions, bacterial multiplication is high during such times because of hygiene challenges and cows are likely pick teat diseases.
- Each time your cow leaves the milking parlour, ensure the teats are dipped in a teat dip and dried.
Opinya works in the Department of Animal Sciences, Egerton University.