CLIMATE CHANGE, it appears, is an equal opportunity stressor – for humans and animals alike.
This is reflected in research findings from the study titled Characterising heat stress on livestock using the temperature humidity index – prospects for a warmer Caribbean.
The 2018 study, which is the work of Cicero Lallo, Dr Tannecia Stephenson and Dr Dale Rankine, among others, reveals that four types of livestock in Jamaica are already betraying signs of heat stress.
And this is even as the Caribbean has seen an increase in the number of warm days, warm nights and extreme high temperatures, together with a decrease in cool days, cool nights and extreme low temperatures.
“The future Caribbean climate is expected to produce steadily increasing heat stress for animals, which would threaten livestock productivity,” said the team of researchers who included Professor Michael Taylor and Jayaka Campbell, both of The University of the West Indies.
“For broilers and ruminants, at 1.5 degrees Celsius, every month can be categorised as very severe, in comparison to the present day, where winter months fall below this threshold. For layers, seven months of the year are projected to fall in the two highest stress categories for the 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming target … the threats further intensify for successively higher global warming targets,” they added.
The Caribbean researchers and their colleagues from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its Special Report on the Impacts of Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius, have warned of the need for prompt, significantly scaled-up and sustained actions to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, given the far-reaching, negative implications for life as it is currently known.
“Ambitious mitigation actions are indispensable to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius while achieving sustainable development and poverty eradication. Ill-designed responses, however, could pose challenges especially – but not exclusively – for countries and regions contending with poverty and those requiring significant transformation of their energy systems,” that report said.
Meanwhile, on the impact of heat stress on livestock in Jamaica, researchers proposed the enhancement of management options.
“For the Caribbean, these should include the development of early-warning systems for detection of heat stress in regional livestock and to trigger appropriate management responses,” they said.
They also recommended “training and sensitisation” of livestock farmers and extension officers in Jamaica and the region to improve understanding of how to prevent or reduce the risk of heat stress.
For broilers, apart from cooling mechanisms, interventions could include improved litter management to prevent ammonia build-up; lowering the stocking density in houses; marketing of birds at an earlier stage; nutritional interventions, for example, the use of vitamins, electrolyte and mineral supplementation, including chromium and zinc; and exploring more climate-resilient strains,” they said.
Strategies for pigs would mirror those for poultry, “including environment modification and nutritional interventions contingent on available budget”.
“Other options might depend on farm size; for example, large farmers focusing future production in ventilated tunnel housing versus smaller farmers installing fans with misting or sprinkler capability in open-sided, naturally ventilated houses and reducing stocking densities,” the researchers said.
“To reduce energy use, passive cooling systems are encouraged. Shade for beef, dairy cattle, sheep and goat at pasture is an important strategy towards mitigating heat stress,” they added.
Other options they advanced include night grazing “with adequate lighting and security”; nutritional management, such as dietary supplementation; in addition to breeding research “to assess for heat tolerance as well as milk production”.