Kerala University to study effect of thermal stress on cattle

Instances of frequent and intense heat waves, heavy rainfall within a short time span resulting in flash floods, prolonged dry spells and droughts are increasingly becoming common world over. Such climate change-driven extreme weather is affecting human health, food and water security.

For instance, the recent heat wave which swept England, when the maximum temperature crossed 40 degrees Celsius, killed about 1,000 people, most of whom were elderly.

But there is limited knowledge on how climate change is affecting animals.

It has been seen that for every 0.5 degree Celsius rise in the animal’s body temperature, milk production in cows falls by 1.8 to 2 litres per day. A one degree temperature rise in the atmospheric temperature hits milk production by about 5 per cent every day.

Similarly, there have been studies and reports attributing warm conditions to growing cases of pregnancy loss among cattle, for their poor immunity and falling reproducing capacity. Hence, under the global warming scenario, cattle rearing can lead to greater losses for farmers.

With an aim to precisely understand the role of changing climate and rising temperatures, the Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University (KVASU) in Thrissur, Kerala, has established specialised chambers at its campus located in Mannuthy campus. Here, cattle will be housed and observed under varying climactic conditions.
Supported by the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana, the Centre for Animal Adaptation to Environment and Climate Change Studies at KVASU has undertaken the project titled ‘Assessment of Thermal Stress on Cattle’. The total project cost is Rs 170 lakh.

This Centre has set up a climate chamber and a comfort chamber, each measuring an area of 72 square metres, where temperature and relative humidity levels will be controlled as per requirements of the study of animals. Each of these chambers can house six animals each. There is also a cattle shed for housing animals under normal conditions where up to 12 animals can be housed. “We plan to quantify the heat stress on animals when housed inside the chamber, where an artificial climate will be created. We will monitor physiological and behavioural changes, monitor the animals’ heart beat rates, blood flow among many other important parameters,” V Beena, implementation officer of the project, told The Indian Express.

The chambers can house up to six large ruminants including cow, buffalo and goat. Inside this chamber, temperatures ranging from 5 to 50 degrees Celsius and humidity levels ranging from 30 to 98 per cent can be maintained. As the name suggests, the comfort chamber will be where the cattle will experience the highest favourable condition.

The indigenously-designed chamber will be the first of its kind in Kerala readying for commissioning sometime later in this month. It can accommodate both small and large ruminants at a time.

While humans are largely blamed for driving global warming due to anthropogenic activities and use of fossil fuel, animals, especially ruminants, are also one of the contributory sources to overall methane concentrations. In ruminants, methane gas is produced in their stomach during digestion and the same methane is eliminated outside during rumination.

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