SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Shade and shelter for farmed and lifestyle block animals

All animals should live in an appropriate environment, and one which reflects the five freedoms. The conditions and surroundings that an animal lives in, contributes to the animal’s overall well-being, both behavioural and physiologic

In New Zealand, many animals are farmed outdoors, including cattle, sheep, goats, deer, pigs and chickens, as well as others. This provides animals with outdoor space and opportunities to perform natural behaviours, allowing them to live more natural lives. However, this also exposes them to a variety of environmental conditions, which during adverse conditions, may be outside of their thermal ability to cope with.

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 variable 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 environmental conditions which they find uncomfortable. However, when animals do not have access to appropriate shade and shelter outside, and are exposed to adverse conditions, this can cause distress, which can be reflected in a variety of ways. Being exposed to environmental conditions outside of an animal’s normal threshold can cause discomfort and distress, and can potentially lead to serious illness and death, and can be very dependent on the physiological status of the animal (e.g. young animals and those close to giving birth or those that have been recently shorn).

Sheep, pigs, goats, deer, horses, cattle and chickens are all 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 environmental conditions change enough, in comparison to the animal’s own body temperature, the animals will use energy generated from their metabolic processes to keep themselves either cool or warm. An animal who begins to experience cold or hot conditions – outside of their optimum range - will usually first try to adapt behaviourally - by seeking shade or shelter, and by unconscious regulatory body functions, such as panting or shivering. 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, thereby experiencing the effects of cold or heat 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.

Ongoing exposure can then lead to the animal’s body temperature falling outside of the 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 reduced or eliminated, this can lead to serious consequences, pain, and sometimes even death. However, if animals are provided appropriate areas of shade and shelter, they will seek out these areas to protect themselves from the environmental conditions.

People who own animals that are kept outside should provide appropriate and sufficient areas of natural and/or artificial shade and shelter in which animals can protect themselves from adverse environmental conditions.

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, lean-to’s or barns should be taken into consideration and provided in outdoor farming systems to help mitigate risk from adverse environmental conditions. In addition, trees and hedgerows of appropriate width and sizes will help prevent animals from experiencing harm from adverse conditions.

As well as providing protection from variable environmental conditions, shelter is also important for many farmed species to protect them from attack from predators, such as chickens being protected from hawks. The provision of overhead shelter in this case, also encourages animals to use the outdoor area as they consider they are “safer” with this shelter in place.

Shade and shelter should be provided and should be able to protect all of the animals you have outside from exposure to adverse environmental conditions, as well as being appropriate for the species being farmed, taking into consideration their physiological status and the behavioural requirements of the animals being farmed.

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