Opinion

Genetic solutions to heat stress

By Geoff Adams

DOOKIE DIARY

(By Professor Tim Reeves, Professor in Residence, Dookie Campus, University of Melbourne)

It would be inappropriate to not start my 2020 diaries without acknowledging those who have suffered so greatly in the terrible bushfires and also those who have battled so bravely and long to help them.

Dr Surinder Singh Chauhan is one of our highly qualified livestock researchers on campus and he recently had an interesting article published in Cosmos magazine entitled "Clever farming in changing times".

I want to share a few of his key findings on heat stress in livestock with you.

  • Once dairy cattle are exposed to temperatures over 25 degrees Celsius and sheep over 28 degrees Celsius, productivity is affected and the higher the temperatures and the longer the exposure, the worse the problem as productivity may never recover due to long-term damage in the animal’s digestive system.
  • Longer-term, one of the solutions will be selecting breeds and genetic strains with better ability to handle heat and this work is already well under way in Victoria.
  • In the shorter term, feeding sheep a concentrated dose of vitamin E and selenium has had significant benefits by reducing animal panting and preventing a decline in food intake.

While it was not part of Surinder’s research, work elsewhere has also shown that effective shelter for livestock in hot conditions is an essential factor for animal well-being and productivity.

Lastly, on February 25 we will again be running our "Ag Science in Action" day for senior science students from local and regional schools.

We will have a number of younger professional scientists here, who are working in – "smart farming", food science, agronomy/remote sensing, and veterinary science, presenting on how they use science in their jobs.

There will also be demonstrations at our robotic dairy and with microwave weed control and with real-time crop measurements.