Livestock, a Potential Victim and Cause of Climate Change

Nabaraj Shrestha, Yugal Raj Bindari, Kopila Shrestha Livestock, a cause of climate change
Climate change is today’s immense problem confronted by every living creature of the earth. Human beings, no doubt, are primarily responsible for this devastating effect. However, animals and/or their byproducts too are directly or indirectly linked to this change. Livestock, primarily cattle, buffalo, poultry and pigs are also one of the most significant contributors to today’s serious environment problems. Livestock’s Long Shadow: Environmental Issues and Options –Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations FAO, 2006, highlighted the substantial role of the farm animal production sector. Identifying it as “a major threat to the environment”, the FAO found that the animal agriculture sector emits 18%, or nearly one-fifth, of human-induced Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions, including; - 9% of global carbondioxide (CO2) emissions- chiefly due to fertilizer production, feed transport, animal product processing, etc. - 35-40% of global methane (NH3) emissions – chiefly due to enteric fermentation and manure. - 64% of global nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions – chiefly due to fertilizer use These levels will continue to rise as animal numbers grow to meet the escalating demands for meat and milk from developing countries. Agricultural emissions of nitrous oxide from manure and the production of artificial fertilizers are projected to increase by 35-60% by 2030. Some developing regions will have very large increases including parts of East Asia with an increase of 135% from enteric fermentation and 86% for manure management. Deforestation for animal production accounts for 89.5% of all CO2 livestock related emission and 34% of NH3 and N2O emissions. According to FAOSTAT (FAO, 2008), globally, approximately 56 billion land animals are reared and slaughtered for human consumption annually, and livestock inventories are expected to double by 2050, with most increases occurring in the developing world. As the numbers of farm animals reared for meat, egg, and dairy production rise, so do their GHG emissions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA, 2004) has noted that GHG emissions from livestock are inherently tied to livestock population sizes because the livestock are either directly or indirectly the source for the emissions.

Livestock, a victim of climate change
Animals/livestock are intrinsically dependent on the environment, and any fluctuations in weather and climate can affect them. All animals do have a range of ambient environment temperatures termed the thermo neutral zone. This is the range of temperatures that are conducive to health and performance. The increase in surrounding temperature resulting of climate change causes heat stress to every livestock.

Changes occur in animals as a result of heat stress: 1. Animals will activate mechanism in an attempt to dissipate the excess heat and maintain the body temperature. The increased respiration rate is an example. The maintenance energy requirement may increase by 20-30% in animals under heat stress. This increases the intake energy available for productive functions such as milk production. Blood flow to the skin will increase in an attempt to dissipate heat. At the same time, blood flow to the core of the body will decrease.
2. An increased loss of sodium and potassium is usually associated with heat

stress. This is due to losses associated with the increased respiration rate. This can shift acid base balance and the result is metabolic alkalosis. 3. Dry matter intake decreases in dairy animals subjected to heat stress. This depression in dry matter intake can be either short term or long term depending on the length and duration of heat stress. Decreases of 10-20 % are common in commercial dairy herds. 4. There is normally a decrease in milk production for cows under heat stress. This decrease in milk production can range from 10 to >25%.
5. Heat stress has also been reported to decrease reproductive performance in

livestock. There are several changes in reproductive performance that have been reported. These include; - Decreased length and intensity of estrus period - Decreased in conception –fertility- rate - Decreased in growth, size and development of ovarian follicles - Increased risk of early embryonic death - Decreased fetal growth and fetal size Other intensive animals such as pigs are also susceptible to heat stress such as, reduced feed intake, reduced fertility levels, decreased activity and in the worst cases, increased mortality. Besides, poultry production is highly affected by increase in temperature. It reduces the ability of poultry birds to feed properly which lead to loss of body weight, high body temperature thereby reducing the rate of growth of poultry birds. High temperature also has its effects on egg production in terms of quality and quantity. According to Charles -1980-, feed intake of a laying bird decrease by 1.5 gm a day for every degree rise in temperature. Similarly, decrease of one egg per bird in a year for every degree rise in temperature. Due to the heat stress, it causes increase in water intake and as a result of this it reduces the shell thickness of egg. The climate change also affects on spread and emergence of animal diseases. Warmer and wetter weather will increase the risk and occurrence of animal diseases, as certain species who serve as disease vectors, such as biting flies and ticks, are more likely to survive year-round. Certain existing parasitic diseases may also become more

prevalent, or their geographical range may spread, if rainfall increases. This may contribute to an increase in disease spread, including zoonotic diseases. Climatic changes will have negative impact on all animals, but particularly livestock who are associated with certain activities that directly contribute to climate change. It is therefore imperative that animal agriculture practices and the welfare of animals be considered when developing climate change policies and programs, both as potential victims and causes.

Charles D.R. (1980) Environment for poultry. Vet Rec. Vol. 106, pp. 307-309. Chase, E.L., Climate Change Impacts on Dairy Cattle, Department of Animal Science, Cornell University, Ithaca, NY 14853. Epstein P.R. & Mills, E. (eds.). (2005) Climate Change Futures: Health, ecological and economic Dimensions. The Center for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard Medical School. FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), (2008) Available: [accessed 24 March 2008]. Norse, D (2003) Fertilizers and World Food Demand: Implications for environmental stresses IFA-FAO agriculture conference “Global Food Security and the Role of Sustainable Fertilization” Rome, Italy. Steinfeld H, Gerber P, Wassenaar T, Castel V, Rosales M and de Haan C. (2006) Livestock’s long shadow: environmental issues and options. Food and Agriculture Organization, Rome. USDA. (2004) U.S. Agriculture and Forestry Greenhouse Gas Inventory: 1990–2001. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Agriculture.

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