Effect of extreme severe heat stress on respiratory rate in unshorn and shorn Australian Merino rams from Northern Patagonia
The aim of this study was to determine the effects of severe extreme thermal stress on the respiratory rate (panting) of unsheared and sheared rams in standing and lying position, and to analyse two temperature-humidity indices (THIs). Six mature Australian Merino rams from Northern Patagonia, three unshorn and three shorn, were subjected to 40 hours (8 hours each day for five days) of gradual increase in temperature from 25°C to 40°C, guaranteeing 4h daily at 40°C in a heat chamber. Respiratory rate (RR) was registered continuously by counting flank movements, and the ambient air temperature and relative humidity were recorded every five minutes inside the heat chamber. From 1413 RR measurements, descriptive and modelling analyses were performed. Panting as a response variable was distributed into five categories, and fixed effects such as THI, wool (unshorn/shorn), and position (standing/lying) were considered. No significant differences were observed between the panting score in the unshorn (standing or lying) and standing (unshorn or shorn) sheep, but significant differences were observed in shorn and lying rams. The explanations could be that heat production from muscle activity was lower and the transfer and heat lost by conduction to the floor was easier in the rams with shorter fleece (at least 0.7 inches long). However, in the unshorn rams, their wool acted as an insulator, both with air as well as the floor. Australian Merino rams from Northern Patagonia are heat tolerant to an environment between 31.5°C and 42°C, and 32% to 48% humidity for 40 hours over five days. The rams were in the first phase of panting, and the normal rectal temperatures registered daily when leaving the heat chamber confirmed that regulation of body temperature was possible. The LPHSI’s THI was adjusted to improve the analysis of the RR more than the National Research Council’s THI.
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