It’s been a hot summer in many parts of the country, especially in Arizona where I raise La Manchas, and we have had temperatures over 110 degrees for several weeks in a row. Though we are now heading into fall, there will still be some extreme heat to deal with. Non-sweating animals, like dairy goats, often have trouble adjusting to heat, and then when the nights cool down significantly, they again have trouble adjusting adequately to handle the change. I would like to emphasize that heat stress can kill animals. This happens because their immune systems are lowered and pneumonia can set in with deadly speed.
A watchful owner can head off disaster if they know what to look for. Dairy goats that are stressed by heat often just don’t look as if they are feeling good. Their ears may droop more than usual, they pant heavily, and they will often go off feed. Last summer I spent quite a lot of time researching this topic. I would like to share what I have found and have put into use, and hopefully it will help others avoid losing precious animals due to heat stress.
Some breeds of dairy goats carry genetics to have long hair, especially over their toplines and down the hindquarters. It is important to shave these goats, and all others, when it is hot. They need to get rid of any extra weight from excess hair. Plus this will naturally take care of any exterior parasite problems that can really be stressful to dairy goats during the summer and going into fall.
Create A Shady Sand Pit
Providing a cool, damp place for the goats to rest in really helps pull the heat out of the body. I have heard of people with sprinklers on timers to sprinkle these sand pits during the day to keep these areas damp. It is my experience that dairy goats really don’t like water that much, but they do enjoy pawing out a rest hole in a cool sandy area and often pick this type of place to spend the afternoon, rather than in a hot stuffy barn.
Provide A Water Tub
Again, dairy goats don’t like water much, but if an animal seems to be suffering from heat stress, a quick way to cool them off is to stand them in a low-edged bathtub, metal sheep water tank, or one of those plastic child’s swimming pools. The water cools the blood as it flows through their legs, cooling their internal body temperature.
Shades Or Awnings
Barns can heat up during the day and hold heat in, especially those with metal roofs or sides. Adding a pull-out shade or awning, like that on an RV, can allow the goats to rest and cool off, yet still feel safe near their own barn. Metal shades heat up during the day and hold heat down, not allowing it to escape. Shade screens allow the heat to escape, keeping it cooler under the screens. Of course, large trees are excellent for shade too, but if this is not an option, consider adding a shade to the existing facility.
Moist air doesn’t necessarily have to blow right on the goats for them to benefit from misting. These can be mounted on the frame of the shades to keep the air cooler, or placed on the side where the majority of the breeze comes from. Where I live there usually is a breeze from the southwest. My pens run east/west, and I have placed the misters on the south side running east and west so when the breeze blows, it blows the mist under the shades.
I have placed fans on the ground, in the corners of my pens, blowing out into the pens. The dairy goats seem to love this air movement and lay in front of these fans. When it’s hot I keep the air circulating 24-hours a day. I have one fan per animal blowing all summer long. Not only does it keep them cool, it keeps the flies from biting them as well.
Avoid putting the animals in enclosed stalls with little or no ventilation on the ground where they lay. These enclosures hold the heat and humidity in like an oven.
Types Of Feed
It is important to feed low energy feeds such as grass hay (Bermuda, Rye grass) and cool grains such as corn during times of potential heat stress. If possible, try to stay away from oats, barley and alfalfa hay which are hot feeds, they generate more body heat to digest. Better yet feed manufactured feeds. During their manufacturing they are "pre-digested" which means the animals body does not have to break them down to digest them causing less body heat to be generated.
Time Of Feeding
Sometimes with dairy animals it is impossible to stay away from "hot" feeds as they are necessary for milk production. The owner should then make sure that the largest meal is given in the morning. The body heats up while digesting the food. If fed at night the majority of the digestion is done after 3:00 a.m., during the monsoon season this is the highest humidity. This is why, in the southwest, heat stress is often experienced in the early morning hours. In our part of the country, hay should be fed in the morning so the majority of the digestion is done in the afternoon or evenings. This is probably different in other parts of the country, so adjust feed schedules accordingly, aiming for digestion when the day is the coolest.
Electrolytes In Water
To make my herd drink plenty of water in the summer, I water each pen with a five-gallon bucket with electrolytes in the water, mixed per the instructions for the electrolytes. In most cases I only need to replace the bucket once a day. Since these animals like fresh water and monitoring their water intake is needed during the summer heat, I do not use either automatic waterers or large water barrels. The water ponds they stand in usually are too filthy, and they do not drink from them.
Believe it or not, iodine in salt helps to regulate the internal body temperature. Offering salt blocks or free choice iodized salt will help the animals drink more water, plus it helps regulate internal body temperature, as stated. Do keep salt blocks and salt feeders in the shade so they will not heat up with the afternoon sun.
This vitamin helps the body to regulate the internal body temperature also. It may be purchased in manufactured buckets in sizes of two pounds or larger. Brewers yeast, which is high in B1, is also a good food additive when dealing with heat stress. This is a powder or crumbles which can be top-dressed over feed.
I hope that this list of suggestions will help others in their fight to keep their non-sweating animals cool during times of extreme heat. A comfortable dairy goat is a happy dairy goat, a heat-stressed dairy goat often becomes a dead dairy goat. Be sure to look for signs of heat stress in the herd and find ways to make these animals more comfortable.