The prime directive for surviving hot weather for humans, pets and livestock is access to cool water. That’s why keeping the 50 gallon water troughs refilled is top priority for Craig Madsen, the shepherd responsible for the goats grazing the Issaquah Highlands in July. “Access to a source of fresh water is part of every contract we sign,” said Madsen. “Drinking water is essential for me, for Gigi the livestock guardian dog and for the goats.”
Second most important is being acclimatized to the weather. Madsen, Gigi and the goat herd live on the road starting in May and stay out until October. Their bodies adjust to the increasing temperature until the peak of summer, and then readjust to the cold in the fall.
Current high temperatures in the 85 to 90 degree range and relative humidity of 30 to 35% are in the caution range for mild heat stress. “We are always monitoring our goats for signs of health issues,” said Madsen. One of the first signs of heat stress in an individual animal is if the goat stops eating or chewing their cud. When goats are chewing their cud while lying in the sun, it’s a good indication they are not stressed.
Goats dissipate heat through sweating, panting and through their horns. Goats get eight times more relief from panting than sweating so rapid breathing is a primary form of cooling. Since panting relies on evaporative cooling, areas where high humidity (above 60%) is associated with high temperatures are more generally stressful to the goats, according to Susan Schoenian, Sheep & Goat Specialist for University of Maryland Extension (https://www.sheepandgoat.com/heatstress).
Dogs also cool off by panting, but Gigi has another option – a dip in the water trough, something no goat would ever do. When the Healing Hooves herd is on a project next to a shallow creek, no fence is needed on the water side. Goats don’t like to get their feet wet!
Madsen also plans moves during the cooler mornings or evenings to reduce stress. Access to natural shade is considered wherever possible, although the greatest benefit of shade is in humid climates with greater than 60% humidity. “The low humidity and cool nights of the Pacific Northwest are a blessing,” said Madsen.
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