14th January 2022

How to weatherproof livestock housing in an increasingly unpredictable climate

Farmers must adapt to changing weather conditions as the global climate warms.

This comes as the Met Office says the UK‘s weather is set to become increasingly unpredictable. Warmer and wetter winters are to be expected, but with cold and dry winters occurring some years.

For those with housed livestock, flexible weatherproofing options can be used to protect against rain and wind, while maintaining ventilation.

What impact does climate change have on housed livestock?

Weather and climate affect housed livestock by changing the environment inside the shed, which impacts health, performance and productivity.

High winds during winter mean cows experience increased wind chill, even if the air temperature is mild. To counteract this, cows will naturally eat more to keep themselves warm, but this will often result in a drop in feed conversion efficiency.

Insufficient weatherproofing also results in wet bedding, whenever driving rain comes into the housing. This has cost implications, as it means farms use more straw throughout the winter. It can also increase disease risk, as some parasites and bacteria thrive in warm and wet conditions, such as the parasite which causes coccidiosis.

Galebreaker’s Matt Sellers frequently speaks to farmers who are already noticing climate related changes. “Almost weekly, farmers tell me they’re seeing new disease problems or a drop in productivity in housed livestock, despite the fact they’ve used the same shed for years.”

The most cost-effective approach to climate proofing housing depends on how long livestock are housed.

Climate proofing for permanently housed herds

For livestock that are indoors all year, start by optimising ventilation, then look at weatherproofing solutions to protect against wind and rain.

In a naturally ventilated shed, the heat generated by the cows should rise and leave via an outlet, which then draws fresh air into the shed. This is known as the ‘stack effect’. To assess whether this is happening, speak to your vet or the Galebreaker team about performing a smoke bomb test, to see how air moves through the shed. This can inform whether mechanical ventilation is required to achieve sufficient air flow.

A well-ventilated shed creates a dry and comfortable environment in which livestock breathe fresh air, reducing the risk of disease. Once this has been achieved, options which protect livestock from the weather while maintaining air flow will promote an optimal environment within the shed. Flexible weatherproofing options can be installed to block wind or driving rain as needed.

For permanently housed cows, an automated system such as a VVS side curtain system can save on labour, while being an effective way of creating a comfortable environment for cows. Temperature, wind speed, wind direction and rain sensors all feed into the system, which adjusts the curtain to block weather and maintain ventilation as required.

Protecting temporarily housed livestock

A different approach is required for livestock that are only housed temporarily.

For sheep, which are typically only housed for a couple of months during lambing, flexibility is key, as weather conditions are likely to vary from one year to the next. Putting up Bayscreens to block wind and rain during the lambing period is a cost-effective way of weatherproofing the space while maintaining ventilation.

Avoid stacking bales of straw along open sides, even if the weather is especially poor. By completely blocking air flow in this way, conditions can quickly become damp inside the shed as without a good flow of air the bedding is unable to dry. More information on preparing sheds for lambing is available here.

As with sheep, cattle that are only housed for a few months during winter will benefit from flexible weatherproofing options. A Rollerscreen can be pulled down to block wind and rain as needed, while maintaining a flow of air. This provides the flexibility to raise it in dry weather to maximise daylight and fresh air.

Regardless of the type of livestock and how long animals are housed for, the principles of providing ventilation while protecting from negative impacts of weather remain the same. In the UK, warmer and wetter winters are expected, so weatherproofing to block wind and rain will play an increasing role in creating a comfortable housed environment for livestock.