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Adapting to Climate Change - Livestock Systems

Climate change will have a significant impact on traditional livestock systems. More extreme weather throughout the year is already forcing the Scottish livestock sector to adapt. There are a wide range of challenges that climate change brings to the sector including risks to animal health and farm efficiency. This page will split the impacts of climate change into four categories:

  • Heavy rainfall and flooding
  • Increasing temperatures and drought
  • High winds and increased storminess
  • Extreme cold weather and snowfall

The effects these have on the sector will be explored and a range of potential adaptation options will be outlined. For more detailed information on these impacts and mitigation techniques see the further information section at the bottom of the page.

Heavy rainfall and flooding are causing a range of issues that affect livestock systems. Flooding can erode quality farmland, destroy hedges and fencing and can lead to prolonged field submersion, putting animals at risk and preventing grazing if occurring for a prolonged period. Additionally, waterlogging caused by heavy rainfall increases the risk of soil compaction and poaching from livestock and heavy machinery, taking the field out of commission until conditions ease. Often these conditions will require animals to be kept in housing for longer periods of time. This is expected to become more common and can lead to a number of new logistical challenges such as ensuring you have enough feed stored and having a plan for additional waste storage and use. Additionally, these conditions can increase the prevalence of pests and disease in waterlogged areas and livestock housing.

Adaptation option examples 
Sustainable Drainage systems (SuDS)SuDS can be used to transport surface water, slow surface runoff and provide storage areas.
Natural Flood Management (NFM)Improving NFM such as restoring peatland; plant, woodland and riparian vegetation can increase water storage and slow water in your catchment. Some of the benefits of NFM include reduced river flow rates, downstream flooding and catchment erosion.
Spring-back fencingFences that can be flattened when flooding is expected, reducing the chance they are destroyed in a flood, reducing repair costs.

Electric fence line to allow rationational grazing to take placeHigh temperatures and increasing cases of droughts in areas of Scotland are having a dramatic effect on water storage and supply, as well as increasing the risk of livestock dehydration and heat stress. In some parts of the country cases warmer summers are increasing growing seasons allowing farmers to make more use of grazed grass, saving money and reducing their environmental footprint at the same time.

Adaptation option examples
Additional water troughsAdding extra water troughs around the farm will allow livestock to access water easier, reducing their chances of dehydration. Consider systems such the nose (pasture) pump which only fills when pushed by livestock to prevent loss of water through evaporation.
Back up water sourceHaving capacity to store clean water on farm using systems such as off-stream reservoirs and rainwater harvesting systems will reduce the pressure when water is in short supply. Remember farmers have a legal obligation to ensure animals have access to clean drinking.

Increased cases of high winds and storminess are threatening the health and safety of livestock and increasing the amount of time livestock are housed throughout the year.  Additionally, the increase in intensity of these events is causing more damage to farm infrastructure and animal housing.

Adaptation option examples
AgroforestryAgroforestry will create sheltered areas on the farm protecting livestock from direct sunlight, storms and high winds. The branches of some tree species can also be used as fodder for various livestock.
Well maintained livestock housingSuitable housing will ensure livestock stay safe and healthy during periods of storminess, heavy rainfall or sub-zero temperatures. Ensure any livestock housing is well ventilated and maintained.

While projections are for winters to become milder and wetter, the intensity of these events when they do occur is expected to be far more intense and sporadic. These conditions pose considerable risk to livestock health a welfare, inhibiting movement, increasing energy consumption, and increasing the length of livestock housing periods.

Adaptation option examples
Sufficient feed for outwintering livestockPlacing silage bases out in the field at the start of the winter season and opening them up when required, ensures livestock have access to feed and can reduce vehicle movement in snowy conditions.
Farm Slurry and Manure Management PlanUpdating your Farm Slurry and Manure Management Plan to ensure you take into account increased housing periods

Further Information

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