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AGRO SOLUTIONS: A guide to drought-resilient farm animals

Global warming is wreaking havoc on livestock, causing stress that impacts growth, fertility and the production of meat, milk and eggs. The heat can make…

Global warming is wreaking havoc on livestock, causing stress that impacts growth, fertility and the production of meat, milk and eggs. The heat can make the creatures more susceptible to disease and even death. Heat stress costs the livestock industry an estimated $1.7 billion in losses a year.

Despite a flood of ominous reports, farmers have ways to mitigate severe circumstances. When stocking, some breeds do better than others. Look for strains from Africa or the Mediterranean rather than the colder north.

Yet be aware that even those genetically hardwired for heat can suffer in sizzlers. Be sure to provide plenty of cool water and shade. Ventilate shelters with open windows and fans. Avoid overcrowding. Feed during cooler hours.

Be on the alert for signs of heatstroke: excessive panting and thirst, rapid heartbeat, lethargy, glazed eyes. Poultry lift their wings to get cooler air. An immobile animal with labored breathing is in trouble. Call the vet if any of these signs surface.

Having animals with genes suitable for survival can save your farm business. Here’s a rundown of breeds and measures to help foster survival.


Black Angus is the most popular breed in the American beef cattle industry. It’s also poorly suited for heat. Originally from the cool climes of Scotland, its long, dark, hairy coat and cushions of fat under the skin cause misery when the mercury rises.

To compensate, geneticists are cross-breeding African strains that have developed heat and drought resistance. Steven Lukefahr, a professor of Animal Breeding and Genetics at Texas A&M University in Kingsville, has combined the lighter-colored Red Angus with two African breeds, the Tuli and Senepol, on his ranch in tropical south Texas with some success.

“You get more money for black cattle, but starting in the South, you definitely have to change your breeding program,” says Lukefahr.

He suggests steers with some degree of the slick gene for short coats, as well as other genes for tropical cattle that produce an oblong-shaped body. “They are more like goats and tend to deposit fat in the bellies as opposed to below the back, so they don’t get as hot,” he says.

As for dairy cows, researchers in New Zealand have found Jerseys are more heat tolerant than Holstein Friesians. The smallest of dairy breeds, Jerseys have vertical skin folds in the neck that help sweat dissipate heat, as well as shorter light to dark brown coats. Meanwhile, scientists from the University of Florida are experimenting with cross-breeding Angus with the loose-skinned Brahmans, which originated from India.


If you’re going to get one animal to survive drought, get a goat. They manage in harsh desert conditions around the world. Their horns dissipate heat and they can forage on relatively little vegetation. Goats with floppy ears and loose skin tend to do better in harsh, dry environments. Unlike cows, there are a lot of breeds from which to choose.

Check out Boers, short-haired goats with light red heads that were introduced to the US from arid South Africa. They, like Nubians, (a heat-hardy composite of English, Indian and African strains), have long ears that help release heat.

The Galla of Kenya have an impressive track record of producing milk in drought conditions. The diminutive Nigerian Dwarf also yields a lot of milk considering its small size. Despite their tiny ears, the hardy LaMancha can adapt to pretty much any environment


The Naked Neck chicken is one weird-looking type of poultry. It’s also one tolerant bird. As its name suggests, it lacks feathers on the neck and head, giving it the appearance of a turkey or vulture. This feature, along with its dearth of feathers, helps it stay cooler than its cousins. Chickens with larger wattles and combs that dispel heat also cope better.

Most feathered-neck chickens wilt in 90-plus-degree weather, although plenty manage in Africa and Latin America. They just pick away in the dirt as though it were spring.

Yet chickens not normally exposed to scorchers go into distress during a heat wave. Poultry can’t pant like mammals, so they lack that vital regulation mechanism. Signs of distress include a pale wattle or comb, diarrhea or seizures. To combat heat exhaustion, feed them fruity snacks, freeze heavier feed an hour before serving, avoid overcrowding and allow breezes to enter the coop through openings or wire fencing.

Source: Modern Farmer

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