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The effects of stocking density on behavior and biological functioning of penned sheep under continuous heat load conditions

By: Bonnie T Mayes, Peta S Taylor, Frances C Cowley, John B Gaughan, John M Morton, Brendan P Doyle, L Amy Tait

There is a high demand for Australian sheep to be exported to the Middle East, and for live export voyages which depart during an Australian winter, heat, and humidity increase rapidly as ships cross the equator and approach destination countries. Concern about sheep becoming heat stressed during these voyages has increased, and industry attention has focused on the potential role of stocking density in determining heat stress risk in this context. High stocking densities limit the body surface area available for heat loss and can increase heat exchange between individual sheep. This study aimed to assess the welfare implications of three stocking densities, for sheep exposed to climatic conditions similar to those experienced during a live export voyage to the Middle East. Higher stocking densities restricted the ability of sheep to lie in some positions, but stocking density had limited effects on heat stress indicators or the physiology of the sheep. These results suggested that the sheep were able to cope with these increases in stocking density under the conditions imposed, but the conclusions must be interpreted in the context of the controlled experimental conditions.

Read the full article in the Journal of Animal Science.