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Jun 11

Climate Change and Livestock Keeping: Managing the Uncertainty

Posted on June 11, 2015 at 11:25 AM by Allan Warren

HorsePlowWorldwide when there are new disease outbreaks (human or horse), there seems to be a link between climate change and infectious disease risk. A warmer environment and changing weather patterns influence many factors which encourage disease outbreaks, disease transmission and the emergence of new diseases. Warmer temperatures enable disease-carrying organisms to extend their ranges, have a longer breeding season and generally become more virulent. Animals (both domestic and wild) which are already stressed by changes (less water, hotter temps, less food availability, etc.) are now more susceptible to diseases, particularly to new diseases, moving into the areas. This interaction of stressed animals and new pathogens, along with animals which are immunologically naïve, causes new disease outbreaks in livestock.

Managing the Uncertainty
The trending in climate change points to things being much different in the next 10 or 50 years. Worldwide we are experiencing extreme weather events which previously were in 100-year cycles. Expectations are for droughts and water limitations, extreme weather patterns like monsoonal rain events, more wind, frequent flooding, cyclonic extremes like super hurricanes and super tornados, and generally warmer and dryer temperatures during growing seasons.

These changes mean disease-carrying insects and pathogens will be flung further along by strong winds and have broader ranges that are more habitable for them. It means great impacts on agriculture in general with less availability of hay and grain and the associated increases in costs due to greater diseases affecting crops, etc.

What can be Done?
Management is key! First, understand disease risks and what can be done to break connections. More than ever, pasture management is important to reduce bare spots and overgrazing so there’s less dust in the summer and no mud in winter. Implement mud management techniques to reduce habitat for disease carrying organisms such as using footing in confinement areas and gutters and downspouts on buildings. Clean water troughs regularly to reduce mosquito and insect habitat, or use goldfish or mosquito dunks labelled safe for livestock. Learn and implement water conservation methods at home and on the farm or ranch. Managing for uncertainty means taking action to plan and prepare for changes in our climate.

Excerpts for this article were from Climate Change and Horse Keeping: Managing the Uncertainty, by Alayne Blickle, Horses for Clean Water, printed in The Horse, Your Guide to Equine Health Care, Digital Edition. April 18, 2014.