Keeping farm animals and horses in extreme weather

How to care for animals on farms and at market in severe hot or cold weather, floods or drought.

You must look after your livestock’s welfare during extreme hot or cold weather, floods or drought as part of your responsibilities for farm animals.

You should also see the other guidance about caring for your animals under normal conditions, including in transport and at the time of killing.

Extreme hot weather

You must take reasonable steps (such as preparing food and water) to plan for your animals’ welfare in extreme weather. This should be part of your business planning when you know - or expect - livestock to be at risk during extreme weather.

You should check on your animals often and take necessary action (such as providing more water) if needed.

You should make sure livestock are protected from extreme weather and that food and water are available - you may need to cooperate with neighbours if supplies run short or access is difficult.

Transporting animals in extreme hot weather

You are responsible for the welfare of animals you transport.

If you do not have a temperature controlled vehicle, you should:

  • not transport animals in temperatures over 30°C
  • check the ‘feels like’ temperature for the intended route if humidity is high

Before making a journey you should:

  • plan to avoid transporting animals in the hotter parts of the day
  • travel early in the morning or overnight where possible
  • have a contingency plan in place
  • make sure all watering and ventilation systems on vehicles are fully functional and animals have access to fresh water

During a journey you should:

  • minimise handling during loading and unloading
  • reduce stocking density by at least 30%
  • increase headroom to maximise ventilation and air movement in the vehicle
  • park in shaded areas during rest stops
  • check the animals more often to check for signs of heat stress such as panting, high respiration rate and sweating

Get advice during extreme weather

In an emergency contact the APHA, your local council, the RSPCA or others for advice.

They can also help you find ways to prevent or reduce the suffering of animals.

Droughts and hot weather

You should have a plan for what to do if water supplies are interrupted. If supplies do fail, you should identify alternative water sources, such as making arrangements with neighbours who have boreholes.

If you have serious difficulties, you can contact your local council (and, in an emergency the RSPCA) for advice.

The greatest risk to animals from lack of water is dehydration. Young animals, housed animals on dry feed only, and lactating animals are at greatest risk.

To reduce the risk, you can give your animals water from the following sources (best to worst):

  • drinking water
  • collected rain water
  • reservoirs

Talk to your vet about the risk of using alternative water sources and to find out if they need treatment.

If water is rationed

If you need to ration water you should meet the following daily minimum needs:

  • milking cows - 38 to 52 litres (l)
  • other cattle - 38 l
  • horses - 20 to 45 l
  • pigs - 4 to 11.5 l
  • sheep - 6 l
  • poultry (intensive) - 0.5 l

You may need to allow for more water for very young or old animals, or if the temperature or humidity rises

You can reduce the amount of water your animals need by:

  • giving them less feed
  • drying off any animals that are in late stage lactation
  • ending egg production

If water is rationed you should avoid salt poisoning in pigs.

When you cannot get enough water

If you cannot get enough water to your animals then you should consider transporting the animals to areas where enough water is available.

As a last resort you should consider killing your animals humanely rather than letting them suffer.

Planning for floods

If you keep animals outdoors in an area where there’s a flood risk you should make a plan to protect them, which includes:

  • where you’ll bring the animals during a flood
  • how you’ll transport them there

You can check if your area has a flood warning or if your property is at long-term flood risk. You can also subscribe to the Environment Agency’s flood warnings service.

Dealing with floods

During and after a flood, sewage, manure and chemicals can pollute water and this could infect any animals that drink it.

You should monitor your animals closely (especially young ones), and get advice from a vet if they drink flood water.

Disposing of dead animals

You must arrange for the disposal of any of your animals that die, and dispose of all carcasses by rendering or incineration.

As the owner of a dead animal, you risk a fine or imprisonment if you don’t deal with any carcasses that are a health risk or nuisance.

After flooding, animal carcasses can end up in a range of places including fields, hedgerows, depressions, roads, canals, rivers, beaches and the sea.

You should try to identify any carcass that ends up on private or public land. If ownership cannot be proven then the landowner is responsible for disposing of it.

When authorities will deal with dead animals

When a carcass ends up on public land or highways, and it’s not possible to identify the owner, the local authority is responsible for disposal.

The Environment Agency will remove a carcass from a watercourse, but only if it creates a risk of pollution or further flooding and it cannot identify the carcass owner or landowner.

Local authorities (usually environmental health authorities) can also deal with any dead animals that are a health risk or a nuisance. They’ll normally arrange the removal for rendering or incineration.

Extreme cold weather

You must:

  • provide feed and water regularly
  • keep any drinking water troughs free of ice for animals kept outside
  • take water to animals regularly if any pipes or other water supplies are blocked

Contact your local council (and, in an emergency the RSPCA) for help and advice if you have difficulties getting feed or water to your animals.

If you keep horses and ponies, you must make sure that any you keep outside during winter have access to shelter at all times. If you cannot then you must move or permanently stable them.

Transporting animals in extreme cold weather

You are responsible for the welfare of animals you transport. You must:

  • plan journeys to avoid disruption caused by snow and freezing temperatures
  • have a contingency plan in place
  • make sure all watering and ventilation systems on vehicles are fully functional
  • adjust ventilation opening to minimise wind chill while maintaining enough ventilation
  • consider adding more bedding
  • consider if animals need access to food during the journey
  • check the animals more often and act on any signs of cold stress such as lethargy, shivering and huddling

Updates to this page

Published 9 April 2013
Last updated 18 July 2022 + show all updates
  1. Added further guidance for transporting animals during extreme hot and cold weather.

  2. Re-ordered to reflect seasonal risks.

  3. Re-ordered to reflect seasonal risks.

  4. Re-ordered to reflect seasonal risks.

  5. Reviewed, checked and re-ordered to reflect seasonal risks.

  6. Page updated to give detail on farm animal welfare.

  7. Re-ordered to reflect current seasonal risks.

  8. Routine seasonal review and update.

  9. Routine update to reflect summer weather.

  10. Further advice added in relation to pets.

  11. Minor text change.

  12. Added guidance for pet owners in the event of floods.

  13. Information added about disposal of animal carcasses in case of flooding.

  14. Content re-ordered to reflect the priority of seasonal risks.

  15. Includes updated and clearer advice on looking after pets in hot weather

  16. First published.

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