Helping animals adapt to climate change

Farmers need to be enlightened about the effects of climate change on animal husbandry.

The impact of climate change on agriculture and livestock production systems is evident in recent times. According to a study, the anticipated rise in temperature along with increased precipitation resulting from climate change will aggravate heat stress among dairy animals. This will, in turn, affect their productive and reproductive performance. This is augmented by a considerable decrease in the quantity and quality of available fodder, due to an increase in atmospheric CO2 levels and temperature. Therefore, it is important that farmers consider appropriate mitigation strategies so that their livestock can adapt to the changes.

But, how can this be done? Farmers will need to select cattle breeds based on the purpose for which they are rearing them and based on the availability of fodder. In this light, farmers should grow green fodder and utilise agricultural by-products for animal feeding. Choice of the green fodder varieties should be based on water availability and soil conditions. As heat stress can decrease food intake in animals, dairy animals need to be fed when the day is not too hot. Fodder trees should be planted around the cattle shed to provide enough shade. These trees can also cater to the fodder requirements. There are several methods that one can use to nutritionally enrich available low-quality fodder.

Policymakers have a role too

Farmers need to be enlightened about the effects of climate change on animal husbandry, and the various adaptation and mitigation strategies they can use. Also, dairypeople need to be trained on the efficient use of farmyard manure and other animal wastes as a source of organic manure for sustainable farming. Establishing a fodder seed bank can enable farmers to grow a variety of greens that can be fed to the cattle.

Traditional mitigation methods, indigenous veterinary practices, and locally available grass varieties need to be identified, documented and validated to develop sustainable adaptation strategies. Stress should be on disseminating information on improved technologies of feeding the animals like fodder blocks, total mixed ration (TMR, a method of feeding the cattle) and hydroponic fodder production technologies. Pests and diseases that crop up due to climate change need to be addressed and preventive measures need to be worked out.

Our local breeds of cattle are adaptive to heat stress. Their adaptive traits like endurance and resistance to several diseases need to be utilised in a breeding policy that is aimed at the better production of milk. Hence, studying the inherent genetic capabilities of different breeds that can better adapt to climate conditions can be extremely beneficial. For instance, native buffalo breeds like Murrah and native cow breeds like Sindhi can be bred selectively to ensure a new generation of cattle and buffaloes that can cope with the ill-effects of climate change. 

Optimised production

In a study conducted in Italy, scientists opine that hot environment impairs production, reproductive performance, metabolic and health status, and immune response in livestock. The process of desertification will reduce the carrying capacity of rangelands and the buffering ability of agro-pastoral and pastoral systems. Both industrial and landless livestock systems could encounter several risk factors mainly due to the variability of grain availability and cost, and low adaptability of animal genotypes. Hence, it will be wise to optimise the productivity of crops by improving water and soil management, and improve the ability of animals to cope with environmental stress by genetic management and selection. 

In another study, animal scientists in the USA say that livestock production will be limited by climate variability as animal water consumption is expected to increase. Meanwhile, the livestock sector contributes 14.5% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, driving further climate change. Consequently, the livestock sector will be a key player in the mitigation of GHG emissions and improve global food security. Therefore, crop and animal diversification is the most promising adaptation measure, while improving animal feeding and genetics can be effective mitigation measures.

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