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Animal Agriculture in a Changing Climate

Climate change may affect animal agriculture in a variety of ways. These include the ability to produce feed-grain, the quality of pastures and forage crop production, animal health, growth, and reproduction, and disease and pest distributions.

Outside of their ideal temperature range, animals need to conserve or shed heat to maintain productive. Optimum animal core body temperature is often maintained within a 2°C to 3°C range. For many species, deviations of core body temperature in excess of 2°C to 3°C cause disruptions of performance, production, and fertility that limit an animal’s ability to produce meat, milk, or eggs. Deviations of 5°C to 7°C often result in death. These changes can slow animals’ growth and reduce reproductive rates, which can increase costs for animal producers and consumers. Because of these impacts, changes in temperature associated with climate change may have an effect on the productivity of animal agriculture.

Animals need to eat, too—so effects of climate change on the crops animals rely on, such as changes to availability and price, can also have a big impact on animal producers’ bottom lines.

Responding to Climate Change

In general, livestock such as poultry and swine are managed in housed, temperature controlled systems. Adjusting these systems to adapt to outside temperature changes may mitigate some of the negative impacts of climate change. However, despite current technologies to manage livestock temperatures, high summer temperatures sill cost swine producers over $300 million every year. As livestock producers adapt to climate change, management and energy costs associated with increased temperature regulation will likely increase. In the future, producers may consider selecting breeds and breed types that are genetically adapted to changed climate conditions. 

When managing for changing climate, livestock producers should consider:

  • General short and long-term changes in environmental conditions,
  • Changes in nighttime conditions that do not allow for adequate cooling, and
  • Increases in extreme events such as hotter daily maximum temperatures and more frequent, longer heat waves. 

USDA’s Climate Hubs aim to better prepare farmers with adaptive responses to climate change by working with producers and partners to deliver science-based, region-specific information and technologies to enable climate-smart decision making. By working with USDA's Climate Hubs, livestock producers will be more prepared to adapt to a changing climate.

This page features information from USDA's 2013 report, Climate Change and Agriculture in the United States: Effects and Adaptation.