Climate Change Impacts on Animal Agriculture

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We’re getting more extreme storms which then cause erosion problems We have more dust, which can create some respiratory problems Heat stress on the animals will affect their production The sows aren’t comfortable and so they just don’t perform as well Agricultural production is at the mercy of weather and climate. Adequate rainfall and ideal temperatures result in good crop production, productive pastures, and healthy animals. But when precipitation patterns or temperatures fall out of the normal range, both crops and livestock are impacted.Hello, My name is David Schmidt, I am an Agricultural Engineer at the University of Minnesota and the regional coordinator for the Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate project.Most of us can identify the challenges of a long drought, a big flood, extreme heat or extreme cold on animal production.

Sometimes death loss or property loss is inevitable.But there are many other more subtle impacts that occur with only slight changes in climate and weather. These changes in milk production or feed efficiency can also result in significant economic losses. Often this is seen as the cost of doing business. Climate is not constant and climate conditions have always and will continue to impact agriculture. Reducing these impacts requires three things: understanding local, regional, national, and international climate trends, identifying farm specific vulnerabilities to these trends, and making strategic changes on the farm to minimize these impacts. This lecture presents an overview of some of the climate impacts, but more importantly, describes a systematic approach to identifying impacts or assessing farm vulnerability to climate changes. The best way to identify climate impacts on the farm is through a farm climate impacts audit. An audit is a systematic approach to evaluating a process or system to identify weaknesses. This lesson will take you through some of the key elements to be evaluated by a farm climate impacts audit. Those elements include farm inputs, animal production, logistics and farm exports.

The elements may differ from farm to farm, and so the audit should be conducted with the understanding that each individual farm is unique, and any audit may divert from the systematic approach.The farm inputs most affected by climate impacts are feed and forage. The impacts can be related to seasonal changes in temperature, or rainfall, or by extreme events such as drought and flooding.These impacts can affect both the quantity and the quality of feed and forage. The effects can be seen in row crops, forages, or in pastures. Climate trends are indicating a longer growing season. This along with seasonal temperature and rainfall trends will impact the productivity of the fields. Pests, weeds, and diseases also can follow temperature and precipitation patterns which can negatively impact feed and forage production. Farmers and agriculture professionals from around the world can attest to the impacts of climate on feed and forage. One of the challenges on many dairy farms is weather patterns and harvest windows. Let’s say you need a 4 day window to harvest a high quality forage and it is going to rain every two days.

Then even though he knows what he needs, mother nature says- …sometimes it interferes.So I think a lot of it comes back to the climate change, the weather, those patterns and soon. But again if you look at the data forage quality now versus 20 years ago is a lot better. We’re making improvements, we just have to keep moving. When you have a situation when animal numbers are reasonably high because they’ve been built up over a couple of years, and you get a sudden drought that’s quite widespread, you have limited capacity to maintain those animals with feed because they rely on natural native grasses. The production of grain for feeding is reduced. Animal feed often comes from off-farm sources. Farmers should be aware of how vulnerable these off-farm sources are to climate changes. Crop failure on a large scale might make an individual farm vulnerable to short or long-term increases in the price of feed.Another farm input that animal agriculture cannot survive without is water, whether it’s water for growing feed or water for the animals to drink.

This water may come from groundwater aquifers, rain fed streams, rivers, lakes or ponds or snow melt. The availability and quality of water on a farm may be affected by seasonal variations in climate. Questions to ask are, where does the water come from for your farm, and how will your farm be impacted by any changes to this supply. Predictability, availability, and timing are critical.Climate and weather also play a role in farm inputs of energy – both electricity and diesel fuel. Backup generators are status quo on most farms, and in areas where there are more intense rains or storms, generators are even more important. On a national scale, fuel supply and fuel prices are impacted by tropical weather events. So, energy inputs to the farm are vulnerable not only to the energy supply but also to changes in price both short and long term.

While the impacts of climate on farm inputs are clear, the most critical impacts of climate on animal agriculture are seen in animal production. Heat stress has always impacted animal production, so any increased frequency of warmer temperatures or more humid conditions can result in additional challenges. According to a study by St. Pierre in 2003, the beef, swine, dairy and poultry industries were losing 2.4 billion dollars per year due to the impacts of heat stress. These impacts included decreased animal performance, increased mortality and decreased reproduction. Heat stress can have a critical impact on several different types of farm animals, and the effects can vary by species. Farmers animal scientists are all well aware of some of these impacts If someone’s telling me they don’t get heat stress, usually I ask them, Do you lose any milk production in the summer? Normally they say yes, that tells me they have heat stress There’s a lot of different changes that will occur on the animal so some impacts on such as milk production will drop by 5 to 25% depending on the dairy and what kind of cooling technology etcetera that they have So milk production is the obvious one that a lot of producers will see but the one that’s sometimes forgotten about and is even bigger is reproduction because will see drops of 30-75% on some of these dairies — drops in reproduction.

Because we’ve genetically made this animal to produce milk so that’s where she diverts her energy and resources after typical body maintenance so reproduction’s going to be the last way to come – obviously mother nature you’re not going to try to sustain an embryo if you can’t sustain yourself or the milk production that she was bred todo. So reproduction takes an even larger hit and even at – possibly earlier temperatures than what milk production will. But those are production-losses wise but then you’ll see behavioral changes with animals starting to pant more, breathing more often, salivating more, they’ll stand up and try to get more air flow across them. So you’ll see a lot more animals standing. The extremes would be mortality. Because pigs don’t sweat, they get really hot. Biggest is they are not going to eat and they are not going to gain so average daily gain is the biggest thing that it affects. We are seeing seasonal infertility with conception so we actually overbreed in the summertime to make up for that.Well the sow’s thermal neutral zone is about 65 degrees Fahrenheit, and any time she’s about to get above those temperatures she’s going to start to feel heat stress.

And there’sprobably variation amongst sows as to where they really start to feel the effects of that.But the further you get above that 65 degrees, the more heat stress they feel. So a sow at70 going to feel maybe a little uncomfortable, maybe her respiration rate will increase alittle bit. When it gets to 80 it’s going to get a little more uncomfortable, when itgets to 90 it’s going to get just miserable. And so it’s just a matter of degree. Andto say–technically once she’s outside the thermal neutral zone she’s heat stressed,but it’s a matter of degree. When humidity is high the heat loss becomesmore inefficient, and so they have to work harder to try to get rid of the extra heat. Panting birds use energy, they have to generate energy to be able to do that panting because that is all done with muscular contractions,so the more they have to pant, the longer they have to pant, and more energy they areusing, the more you can get byproducts of the energy metabolism that can affect theacid base balance and then that will have a negative impact on the bird on how long it can take and be able to control body temperature before it can increase and reach a lethal state.

So assuming we are not talking about lethal temperatures, birds are able to maintain their bodytemperature, but it takes energy to do that. So they are spending feed energy in termsof trying to keep up with the panting process, so feed intake will decrease. So dependingon where you are on the response curve, you will see decreased feed intake, and then worseningwith feed efficiency since they are using heat energy for maintenance of body temperature.And then eventually over time the rate of gain intake will decrease as well.Instead of weight gain for the market or the meat birds, here we’re looking at what happens in terms of egg production and fertility or hatchability, so warmer temperatures similar to the birds again will decrease the feedintake, and that can have an impact on egg production.

Another part of it is if they spenda lot of time panting, that will impact the acid base balance and they will impact thecalcium deposition on the shells and so you’ll end up actually with thinner eggshells We had some eggshell quality problems that would be very similar to what happens with chicken layers as well those birds producing table eggs for human consumption. The most common impacts of heat stress onanimals are loss in productivity and reproductive problems. These impacts can vary depending on the typeof species and their different phases of production. Impacts are also a function of the durationof the heat event and the ability of the animals to cool down in the evening. If temperatures do not fall enough duringthe night, the animals cannot cool down. A species and production-specific temperature-humidityindex can help alert farmers to potential heat stress impacts. The impacts of heat stress on production arecaptured by seasonal production numbers. For example, in recent years, swine producersin Iowa have reported 3-4% reductions in slaughter weights during the summer months each year.

Milk production per cow is affected by manyfactors but the annual cycles are are quite evident with an estimated 5-10 pounds of milkper day lost due to heat stress in late summer and fall.Along with heat stress, animals can be also impacted by cold. South Dakota’s livestockindustry took a major hit in 2013 when an autumn snow storm killed tens of thousandsof cattle: Animals in ravines and pastures where they froze to death, and many more could die in the months to come. Animals are also affected by abrupt changesfrom cool temperatures to warmer temperatures. Animals need time to adapt to changes in weather.Farmers need to ask, how vulnerable is the farm to early high season temperatures?Climate changes can also impact the spread of diseases and pests. Warmer temperatures,mild winters, and changing rainfall amounts result in the migration of pests to differentgeographical areas. Farmers need to ask, how vulnerable is the farm to the spread of newdiseases or pests? “If we don’t have the freeze to kill thebacteria, to kill the pathogens, we’re gonna have more problems with parasites and otherillnesses.

I’m beginning to see more cases, and I think this is true of my fellow producers,seeing more cases of respiratory illnesses. That was almost unheard of with animals onpasture, unless they were stressed for some other reason, we just didn’t see it. Butnow we’re starting to see things such as respiratory disease, and animals in some casesdying. I’ve been fortunate I haven’t lost any to respiratory disease but I have a lotof colleagues who have lost animals from respiratory disease. Last year we had a bout of pink eye,which I’ve not seen pink eye happen in the herd for probably 25 years. Last year we hada very serious strain come through and affect a lot of animals. And again just somethingnew that we’ve never had before but again is a result of the warm temperatures, thedust, the flies, all of that. After looking at the impacts of climate onfarm inputs and on animal production, it’s important to examine the impacts on Farm logistics,which are quite complex. Logistics include the timing and transporting of young animals,feed and supplies to the farm, the feeding of animals, the scheduling of reproduction,animal movement through phases of production, manure management, milking equipment and schedules,farm maintenance, and more.

Again, the farmer must determine how vulnerable these systemsare to climate. Manure management is one area of farm logisticsthat becomes more complicated as a result of extreme weather events:The additional rainfall we’re getting happens in the spring and in the winter and of coursethat’s your critical period for the storage because of course over the winter you’restoring it and then in the spring you’ve got to spread it and if it’s wet, everythingdelayed – yeah – so you’re storing more for a longer period of time when it’s evenwetter so it… it compounds on you. Changes in the amount, timing and intensityof rainfall all put farmers at risk for overtopping manure storages. When it comes to manure application,changes in precipitation can create logistics problems with either the timing of the applicationor with increased potential for runoff and pollution problems. In addition, any changesin temperature will make it more difficult to estimate crop nutrient availability.

Climate changes also impact pasture management. Some grazing areas may not be available dueto flooding or drought conditions. On the other end of the spectrum in the winter time, we’re seeing milder winters. Eventhough the temperatures are milder, we have less snow, we’re getting more precipitationand so we’re getting more mud. And the mud creates problems in itself with not only beingphysically messy to work with, but also there are more apt to be hoof problems.Farms might also be vulnerable to flooded roads or bridges, which makes transportinganimals or products on or off the farm more challenging… Ask the dairy farmers near Buffalo New Yorkhow prepared they were for an early season blizzard in 2014 that brought up to 8 feetof snow in the western part of the state. The snow prevented milk trucks from reachingthe local dairies and some farmers were forced to dump milk.

Times of extreme heat or cold not only affect the animals but the human labor on the farm.Flooding or heavy snowfall might also prevent farm employees from getting to work. Oftenthese logistical considerations are missed when thinking about climate impacts.Climate and weather challenges to animal production are only part of the farm economic picture.Farmers need to also assess the impacts of climate on farm exports, meaning the productsthat are marketed and sold by the farm: the price they get for their products.The Market prices for these farm products are impacted by many factors, including andinclude climate conditions on a local, national or global scale.For example, livestock producers have seen their profits affected in recent years dueto the impacts of drought: That’s traditionally what we’ve done indrought management, is we wait for it to become dry, then we have a whole suite of actionswe typically undertake. Try to sell animals, try to buy feed, look at additional resourcesfor those animals, and we’re caught in a time when everyone else is trying to do thesame thing. So price of animals decline, price of feed increases, and economically that’sa disaster for livestock producers.

We talk about summer heat coming and helpingout the markets. That is what we think about – so if everyone else’s pigs slow down.So there is a component of the market out there right that the weather actually doeskind of control it a little bit, and maybe we can beat it somehow. The processing plants become flooded with animals. If they don’t have the feed, they have to sell them,but you can’t sell them into abattoirs if the abattoirs are alreadyfull. So you get a build-up of animals, so the cost of feeding them becomes very high. So that’s how it impacts throughthe supply chain, and farmers actually end up losing money and in the end some of themhave started to lose their breeding stock as well as their productive animals. Climate change can result in farm-specific impacts, along with regional, national, and global impacts.

Impactssuch as heat stress, drought or flooding are easy to identify. Others such as manure managementlabor, pests, roads and bridges, are site specific or species specific. Key is to payattention to the little things and use a systematic way to identify vulnerabilities.A systematic audit will include a listing of the site specific weather trends, annualand seasonal, followed by the impact these trends might have on the farm operation.Some might like to organize this information in a table format. When doing this, try to list as much detailabout the potential impact – including economics where possible. More detailed informationis useful when planning responses to protect from or decrease the risk of these impacts.Climate impacts on agriculture are nothing new The difference now is that there are some real trends inclimate and weather that must be considered in both short and long term farm planning..

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