High temperature: The current high temperatures are expected to return to more normal levels over the weekend. But with higher temperatures persisting on Thursday and Friday, it is important that management practices are tailored accordingly to keep animals and those working with them safe and prevent health issues from occurring.
Outlined are a number of areas where greater care and attention may be required.
Shelter for ram lambs: The temperatures experienced over the last week have the potential to trigger heat-related fertility issues in rams.
The quality of semen is detrimentally affected when a ram’s body temperature exceeds 40°C. The greatest risk is with ram lambs on an intensive concentrate-based diet and without sufficient shelter during peak daytime temperatures.
Such a scenario occurred in 2018, with some rams that were exposed to high temperatures experiencing temporary fertility issues or subsequently testing with poor-quality semen.
The majority of rams are likely to be unaffected, but there were certain early lambing flocks in 2018 carrying out AI with fresh semen that encountered significant issues. It is therefore something to be mindful of and have a backup plan in place. Rams should have access to sufficient shelter and a water supply adjacent to where they are being fed, as they may not walk significant distances in the heat.
Safe transport of sheep: Where possible, it is advisable to avoid transporting sheep in peak daytime temperatures. Where it cannot be avoided, then the stocking rate should be reduced accordingly, with sheep going down in a packed load surviving for a much shorter period of time.
Flystrike and nuisance flies: While flies may be less active out in the open, they will concentrate in shaded areas and water troughs where animals will also be congregating. Nuisance flies such as head flies can be addressed by applying certain pour-ons. There are also reports of a breakdown in cover and flystrike occurring before the prescribed period of cover has passed. Where applying pour-on in hot weather, it is important to do so late in the evening and indoors or in shade, as there is a significant risk of product being lost through evaporation before it has bound with the fleece.
Working sheepdogs: Dogs can succumb to heat stress, stroke and exhaustion quickly. Dehydration can also occur and this will limit a dog’s ability to regulate their body temperature. Therefore, dogs should not be worked during peak temperatures and given regular rest and water breaks. Remember, surfaces are hot and a dog’s foot pads can quickly get burnt.
Grass supplies: Some areas in Down, Armagh and Antrim are burning up badly, with grass growth non-existent and reserves depleting fast. There are areas in the east of the country or shallow soils not far behind. There will be little option but to try and reduce grass demand and conserve and ration supplies for priority stock. Weaning should take place if not already carried out, while another option where supplies are particularly tight is introducing concentrates or temporarily increasing feeding levels. The best response will be achieved by targeting forward lambs, which will finish quickly.