SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Shade and shelter for farmed and lifestyle block animals

All animals should live in an appropriate environment. The conditions and surroundings given to an animal contribute to its overall well-being, both behavioural and physiological.

In New Zealand, many animals are farmed outdoors, including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, pigs and chickens. This provides animals with abundant space and freedom to perform natural behaviours, allowing them to live natural lives, and also exposes them to a variety of weather conditions.

New Zealand is well known for fluctuating temperatures and climate, and “four seasons in one day” is a commonly used phrase.

New Zealand is well known for fluctuating temperatures and climate, and “four seasons in one day” is a commonly used phrase. Animals farmed outdoors will actively seek shade and shelter to protect themselves from these temperature and climate variations. However, many animals farmed outdoors do not have access to appropriate shade and shelter, and are therefore left exposed to the elements. Being exposed to extreme or fluctuating weather conditions can cause discomfort and distress, and can lead to serious illness and death, dependent on the physiological status of the animal (e.g. young animals or those close to giving birth).

Sheep, pigs, goats, deer, horses, cattle and chickens are homoeothermic. This means they are able to maintain a stable, internal body temperature within limits, which is required to maintain normal physiological functions. If the external temperature changes compared to their own body temperature, they will use energy generated from their metabolic processes to keep themselves cool or warm. However, animals also need energy to maintain normal biological function, and will begin to lose heat when in a cold environment, or be unable to get rid of heat in a hot environment, thus experiencing the effects of heat or cold stress.

An animal who begins to experience cold or hot conditions will usually try to adapt behaviourally by seeking shade or shelter, and by panting or shivering.

An animal who begins to experience cold or hot conditions will usually try to adapt behaviourally by seeking shade or shelter, and by panting or shivering. Some animals may group together to reduce exposure to the cold or the sun. Ongoing exposure will ultimately lead to the animal’s body temperature falling below the minimum, or rise above the maximum tolerable temperature, which is referred to as thermal stress.

Physical efforts by the animal to reduce the thermal stress load come at the expense of other biological functions and if thermal stress is not alleviated it can lead to serious consequences, pain, and even death. If the animal is provided appropriate areas of shade and shelter, it will seek out these areas to protect themselves from thermal stress.

As well as providing protection from the elements and climate, shelter is important for many farmed species to protect them from attack from predators such as chickens being protected from hawks. Furthermore, the provision of shelter and overhead cover has been shown to result in less aggression in some species, and can also prevent animals from experiencing additional pain when they are suffering from particular illnesses, such as eczema causing pain when exposed to the sun.

People who own animals that are kept outside must ensure they provide appropriate and sufficient areas of natural and artificial shade and shelter in which animals can protect themselves from weather fluctuations. In addition to providing protection from the sun, rain, wind and snow, shelter should provide protection from humans, herd or flock mates (conspecifics) and predators. Shade provides protection from the heat and the sun’s UV rays.

In many extensive farming systems, shelter or shade is commonly provided by way of vegetation, such as long grass or shelterbelts, topography such as rocks and ridges, and by other animals (i.e. animals grouping together). However, this can be insufficient to protect animals from the extreme and persistent weather conditions experienced in New Zealand.

Artificial shelters in the form of shade cloth, huts, sheds or barns should also be provided in all outdoor farming systems, to prevent animals from experiencing harm. There is urgent need to provide effective shade and shelter to prevent animals from suffering from climatic conditions, especially in situations where weather extremes are anticipated to become more variable.

Shade and shelter provided must be able to protect all of the animals from exposure to fluctuating weather conditions, and must be appropriate for the species being farmed, also considering physiological status and behavioural requirements of the animals being farmed.

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