OUR FUTURE | Climate change and farm animals

As a veterinarian, my role is to advocate for the health and welfare of animals. Whether that be your beloved pet, or assisting primary producers with livestock. Part of my role is to observe trends and patterns that can prompt early intervention and response. This is why I'm concerned about climate change.

Climate change is and will continue to be a critical issue for our farmers. Many of our agricultural production systems rely on consistent, predictable weather patterns. This allows farmers to plan how much food, or water their livestock will need. Or, how much shade. Climate change influences all weather, making it more extreme and unpredictable.

As we have seen and felt over the past few years, heatwaves are becoming longer, hotter and more severe. Certain European dairy breeds are more prone to heat stress, which can result in reduced milk production and fertility. Producers in at-risk regions may have to address heat stress, in the short term, by using cooling sprays and shifting milking sessions to cooler times of the day. In the long term, some producers may need to look at shifting their herd genetics and select for more heat-resistant traits.

Climate change is also a factor in the movement of vector-borne diseases. Around the world, increasing temperatures and changing weather patterns are enabling various insects to change their geographic distribution and enter new regions. Any movement of insects is accompanied by the movement of disease. Consequently, there's a strong chance parasites previously unseen in southern regions, may rear their ugly heads.

It's critical we talk about the detail of climate change in order to find ways to adapt to its many, varied impacts.

Dr Guy Weerasinghe is a committee member of Australian Veterinarians in Public Health, Special Interest Group of the Australian Veterinary Association.