Advice to animal keepers on welfare issues in severe - hot or cold, floods or drought - weather situations.
During severe weather (such as hot or cold weather, floods or drought) the welfare of animals is important.
Officials from local councils and the Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) monitor severe weather situations closely in liaison with the RSPCA, National Farmers’ Union (NFU), and other organisations who play a role in helping farmers and pet owners to protect their animals.
If you own or keep animals, you have a duty of care to those animals (it’s a legal requirement), and you need to take reasonable steps to protect their welfare and prevent their suffering.
As a general principle, you must not leave animals in circumstances where they’re likely to suffer.
If you are a farmer, or keep horses, you are expected to take reasonable steps to plan for the welfare of your animals. This should be part of your business planning where it’s known or could be anticipated that livestock might be at risk during severe weather.
In an emergency, APHA, local councils, RSPCA and others will do what they can to provide advice, and to help you find ways to prevent or alleviate the suffering of animals.
Farmers, pet and horse owners
High temperatures and humidity, particularly sudden changes in conditions, can pose a major threat to animal welfare.
Those who look after animals must avoid causing them unnecessary suffering (it’s a legal requirement), and must avoid subjecting them to conditions where this is likely to occur. It is an offence if the welfare of an animal is compromised as a result of a failure to take appropriate action in response to extremes of temperature.
Farmed animals should be provided with adequate shelter and protection in accordance with the law and welfare codes. In hot weather it is particularly important that animals have access to shade and water. Livestock keepers should inspect their animals often and take necessary action to correct any problems.
Those transporting animals, including agricultural animals, should avoid problems in hot weather. Things to consider include:
- factoring potential weather conditions into the planning of any journey (for example not loading or moving animals during the hottest parts of the day)
- improved ventilation of the vehicle
- increased space allowances
- providing water and electrolytes more frequently
In addition, contingency plans should be in place for every journey, and are particularly important in hot conditions as delays, which might be relatively insignificant under normal conditions, can become critical very quickly.
Looking after pets
You should ensure that, in hot weather, your pets have plenty of water, ventilation and shade from the sun. Pets should not be left in cars.
- Protecting the welfare of pet dogs and cats during journeys - advice for owners on how to identify and avoid overheating in animals
If water supplies are interrupted, this can cause problems for some farmers. You will often be best placed to identify a source of water for your animals, for example by co-operating with neighbours who may have bore holes. But if you face serious difficulties in getting supplies to your animals, contact one of the organisations listed at the end of this guide who will try and identify solutions in co-operation with each other.
The greatest risk to animals from lack of water is dehydration. To reduce this risk, try to provide water from one of the following sources (best to worst):
- potable (drinking) water
- collected rain water
You should seek advice from your vet on the risks, and on whether animal treatment is advised.
For livestock, priority should be given to animals with no access to water of any sort. Young animals, housed animals on dry feed only and lactating animals will be at particular risk.
If only a restricted supply of potable (drinking) water is available, the following is a rough guide to the daily needs of an animal:
- milking cows: 38 - 52 litres
- other cattle: 38 litres
- horses: 20 - 45 litres
- pigs: 4 - 11.5 litres
- sheep: 6 litres
- poultry (intensive): 0.5 litres
(These figures will vary depending on the age of the animal and on temperature and humidity.)
Where practicable, actions to reduce the requirement for water include:
- reducing feed intake
- drying off animals in late stage lactation
- ending egg production
Where water is rationed, care is needed to avoid ‘salt poisoning’ in pigs.
Practical steps to secure water supplies
You can talk to neighbouring farmers who may have local water supplies from boreholes. To provide extra storage for water, grain trailers can also be made waterproof by siliconing the inside of a trailer, or by using builders’ polythene (not silage sheets as they are not strong enough).
If water cannot be made available, farmers should consider whether animals can be transported to areas where supplies are available. As a last resort, in situations where water cannot be made available, farmers will need to consider euthanasia for their animals rather than allowing them to suffer.
Water provision at slaughterhouses is essential during lairaging. If you can’t provide alternative supplies in case of mains delivery failure, you should not accept animals that may require lairaging.
Where overnight lairaging does happen, you should consider carefully whether your facilities are fit for use in extreme weather conditions and if needed, provide supplementary bedding, water, feed and protection from adverse weather. You should have contingency plans in place to accommodate, slaughter or divert animals to other locations if severe weather results in animals being unable to arrive at the agreed time for slaughter.
You will already be working to make sure your livestock is protected from severe weather and that food and water are available. Where animals are kept outdoors and there is a risk of flooding, you should consider moving stock to an alternative location. In areas where there is a known flood risk you should have contingency plans in place to protect the welfare of your livestock, including alternative accommodation and transport arrangements.
You can get advice on flood risks from the Environment Agency.
You can also subscribe to the Environment Agency flood warnings service.
In flooded areas, water may be polluted with sewage, manure or chemicals, and animals drinking such water are at risk from infection. You should therefore monitor your animals closely (especially young ones), and seek veterinary assistance where necessary if they have drunk flood water.
Disposal and collection of dead animals
If an animal dies, the owner is responsible for arranging for its disposal.
Following flooding, animal carcasses may end up in a variety of places including fields, hedgerows, depressions, towns/villages, roads, canals, rivers, beaches, and the sea.
Where a carcass ends up on private land, wherever possible the owner of the carcass should be identified so that they can fulfil their responsibility of arranging for its collection and disposal. If ownership cannot be proven, the landowner is responsible for the disposal.
Where a carcass is deposited elsewhere, including on public land or highways, and it is not possible to identify the owner, the local authority is responsible for the disposal.
The Environment Agency will remove a carcass from a watercourse, but only if it creates a risk of pollution or further flooding and the carcass owner or landowner cannot be identified. Local authorities (usually Environmental Health Authorities) have powers under the statutory nuisance provisions of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to deal with any ‘accumulations or deposits which are prejudicial to health or a nuisance’. These also allow for appropriate action to be taken against the owner of the carcass.
All such carcasses must be disposed of by rendering or incineration. Further details of local contractors and disposal facilities can be obtained from the local authority, EA or local Animal and Plant Health Agency (APHA) office.
Severe cold weather
During periods of bad weather you will already be working to make sure livestock is protected from the severe weather and that food and water is available. You will be best placed to identify and source feed and water for your animals, for example by co-operating with neighbours if supplies run short or access is difficult.
It’s important to make sure that drinking water troughs are kept free of ice, where animals are kept outside, and that if pipes and other water supply fittings are blocked, water is taken to the animals regularly.
If you face serious difficulties in getting supplies for your animals, contact one of the organisations listed at the end of this page who will try and identify solutions in co-operation with each other. Local councils have statutory responsibilities in relation to animal health and welfare on farms, at markets and in transport, and can provide advice and support. In an emergency the RSPCA will also provide help and advice.
Pet and horse owners
Where you have pets (such as rabbits and guinea pigs) which are normally kept outside in hutches during mild winters, you should consider moving them into garages and sheds to provide more insulation. If you can’t move a cage, you need to provide more protection or insulation. It is also important to ensure a supply of drinking water. Ice should be cleared from drinking water containers and the spouts should be defrosted regularly.
If you usually keep horses and ponies outside during the winter, they should have access to shelter at all times and a regular provision of feed and water. If you can’t be sure of providing this, you should consider moving the animals, or permanently stabling them for as long as necessary. You should regularly check the water supplies for all your horses and ponies, and find alternatives in case the mains supply fails.
In an emergency you should contact the RSPCA for help and advice.
Transporting live animals
If you are an animal transporter, the law requires you not to transport animals in a way that is likely to cause injury or undue suffering. So in cold conditions you must check that your intended route is safe and clear before starting any journey. You should have contingency plans to care for the animals in case of any problems on the journey.
Bedding must be supplied for:
- calves under 6 months
- foals under 4 months
- piglets under 10 kgs
- lambs under 20kgs
This bedding must guarantee the comfort of the animals in the weather conditions at the time. However, during freezing weather, you will need bedding for older and heavier animals too.
For journeys over 8 hours, ventilation systems on vehicles must be capable of keeping the temperature in the animal compartment above 0 degrees centigrade.
It is against the law to cause or permit injury or unnecessary suffering, whatever the cause (including severe weather), in a market. Water provision at markets is essential and if you’re unable to provide alternative supplies in case of mains delivery failure, then you should not accept animals for sale.
Where overnight lairaging occurs, you should consider whether the facilities are fit for use in extreme weather conditions and where necessary provide supplementary bedding, water, feed and protection from adverse weather conditions. Local councils and the APHA will be monitoring markets and will take appropriate enforcement action where necessary.
Slaughterhouse food business operators
During periods of bad weather you need to make sure livestock is protected from the severe weather and that food and water is available if conditions cause routine operations to stop. You will be best placed to identify and source feed and water for your animals or redirect the animals to a more suitable location or different slaughterhouse. You should work out contingency plans in advance to facilitate co-operation with neighbouring slaughterhouses or farms if supplies run short or access is difficult.
You should ensure that, where animals are kept outside, you keep drinking water troughs free of ice and take water directly to animals if pipes and other water supply fittings become blocked.
If you face serious difficulties in sourcing supplies for your animals, you should contact your official veterinarian in the first instance and, if this is not possible and the welfare of the animals is compromised, you may contact one of the organisations listed at the end of this page. Local councils have statutory responsibilities in relation to animal health and welfare on farms, at markets and in transport, and can provide further advice and support. In an emergency the RSPCA will also provide help and advice.