Like with humans, stress in animals can be a serious problem, often with dire health consequences.
Stress increases the levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which suppresses the immune system and so affects productivity and reproduction by delaying puberty and retarding ovulation.
Stress can also affect the behaviour of an animal, making it more aggressive or changing its social and sexual behaviour. Moreover, if animals are exposed to stress over a long time, the effects can be transferred to the next generation.
Elements that cause stress can be external, like when it is too hot or cold, or when conditions are difficult, like sheep or cattle lambing and calving on rough terrain. There are also behavioural stressors, like being dominated by others in the flock or herd, infections, competition in confined spaces or when they’re handled or transported roughly.
When animals are stressed, they will bleat or bellow. They may also try to escape, and could have little energy, lose their appetite, become dehydrated, breathe faster or experience an increase in their heart rate.
The best way to avoid stress in animals is to keep them comfortable. Provide shade and enough water, ensure ample space in confined areas, transport them safely and hygienically, and, when handling them, be calm and keep your distance.
Crushes and other handling equipment should be designed to mimic the natural behaviour of the animals. Google the famous US animal scientist Temple Grandin to find out more on animal-handling equipment design.
Stress is a major problem when slaughtering animals. If an animal is stressed when it is slaughtered, its pH remains above 6, making the meat dark, tough and dry.
Humans work best when they’re calm, and the same applies to animals. Don’t let stress cost you money!