June 2011 Issue

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HEAT STRESS and HEAT STROKE

Stress, regardless of its source, can be life threatening to goats. Like deer, goats are easily stressed -- perhaps more than other domesticated livestock. Producers often focus on the effects of cold stress on goats, but heat stress can be equally dangerous.Heat stress is defined as the body's inability to cool itself. Symptoms include panting, mouth breathing, rapid heart beat, difficulty standing, head down, lethargic, reduced feed intake, off feed, off water -- all of which are so generalized that they could indicate a variety of problems. Heat stress, also known as heat exhaustion, is not likely to pass on its own. The producer must learn to identify symptoms and take immediate corrective action to keep heat stress from morphing into heat stroke.

Drought and heat stress go hand in hand; however, very hot weather isn't the only cause of heat stress. Extremely high humidity, even on a moderately hot day, can result in heat stress. Newborn and very young kids have difficulty regulating their body temperatures under normal conditions; add heat stress and death becomes a real possibility. Female goats tend to handle heat stress better than males, except when does are pregnant. Heat-stressed does may abort their kids or may not be able to deliver them when parturition (birthing) occurs. Old goats have more trouble with heat than do healthy adults.

Inadequate nutrition can result in heat stress because more body heat is required to digest poor quality forage/browse/pasture. Goats on dry forage need increased amounts of cool clean water. Feed that is high in starch takes more energy to digest, creating more heat that the goats have to eliminate from their bodies. Processed grains tend to be high in starches. Growing kids and juvenile goats require more water as a percentage of body weight than do mature goats. Growth rates can be slowed by high heat. Goats can wind up in an energy deficit condition when their bodies are unsuccessful in eliminating heat. Dark-colored goats have more trouble staying cool than light-colored goats. Goats that are too fat have major problems eliminating body heat. Producers should check for fat accumulation where the leg meets the chest. If you can pinch an inch of flesh at that juncture, the goat is too fat. Boers tend to put on fat easily. Some of this is genetic and the rest is the result of producers feeding too much bagged grain.

Heat stress can cause infertility in both sexes, including a reduction in sperm counts in bucks. Six to eight weeks may be needed for a heat-stressed buck to return to optimum sperm production. Goats eliminate heat from their bodies by panting and through their horns, which serve as "radiators" for their bodies. Disbudding and dehorning remove this cooling mechanism and is bad for the goats' health. Polled goats, especially polled bucks, have more difficulty eliminating heat than horned goats. Heat stress also compromises the goats' immune systems, making them more susceptible to diseases such as pneumonia.Normal body temperature for a healthy goat is 101.5*F to 103.5*F. Body temperature above 104*F requires the producer's immediate assistance. Adequate shade for goats is critical; shade trees in areas that provide good air flow are excellent places for goats to rest. Easy access to cool clean water is essential. Barns and loafing sheds should have fans installed if they aren't sufficiently ventilated to have good air flow through them. Misters may need to be installed in confined areas to keep the goats cool. Installation of an overhead hose spraying system is an excellent idea. Run all hot water out of the hose before spraying the cool water onto the dirt floor and on overheated goats. Monitor newborn and young kids for panting and mouth breathing and wet them down if needed. Electrolytes like Bounce Back or ReSorb should be put in water troughs and pails to reduce heat stress.

Give oral electrolytes in small amounts through a stomach tube if goats cannot or will not drink on their own. Water sources with electrolytes added must be freshened daily, because electrolytes contain simple sugars that attract insects. Administration of Lactated Ringers Solution (vet prescription) under the skin (SQ) may be needed to rehydrate heat-stressed goats. Goats in this condition cannot be left with the herd but must be brought into a confined "sick pen" for accessibility and treatment. Heat-stressed goats cannot keep up with the herd. A 100 pound goat normally requires one gallon of fluids daily under normal conditions. A heat-stressed goat's body may easily utilize a greater amount, but given in small quantities.

Working goats (herding, sorting, vaccinating, deworming) should be done in the early morning hours, if at all, rather than in the heat of the day. In dry West Texas, we water down the alleys with my fire truck (3/4 ton pickup with 250 gallon water tank and pump system mounted in the truck bed) before we move goats so that the ones in the back of the moving group do not inhale dust and contract dust-induced pneumonia. Goats with heat stroke are goats that have not been able to overcome heat stress, are down, cannot get up, are mouth breathing, and may even be unconscious. Such goats are close to dying. They need to be hosed down with cool (not cold) water. Ice packs should be put on the head between the horns or where the horns should be, and ice packing between the back leg and the udder or scrotum (near the femoral artery) may help. A cool water enema is also advisable. In my experience, goats this far gone seldom survive.

All of these things sound obvious but are easy for producers to overlook unless they remain aware of the dangers of living outside in excessive heat, drought, and high humidity. Get the supplies needed on hand now. You won't have the luxury of time to find them when heat stress or heat stroke occurs.

Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Lohn, Texas 6/17/11

Subscribe FREE now! Monthly issues with new articles and other educational information on meat goat health, nutrition, and management written by Suzanne W. Gasparotto of Onion Creek Ranch and Pat Cotten of Bending Tree Ranch. In all cases, it is your responsibility to obtain veterinary services and advice before using any of the information provided in these articles. Neither Suzanne Gasparotto nor Pat Cotten are veterinarians. None of the contributors to this website will be held responsible for the use of any information contained herein.

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