As it gets further into the summer months, livestock begin to show express a common discomfort as humans do: sunburn. Exposure to UV radiation can cause skin damage to dairy cows, light-colored beef cattle, sheep, pigs, and horses. Affected skin becomes red, painful and raised, which can lead to the skin becoming extremely dry and will eventually slough off leaving those areas exposed to secondary infections.
Sunburn not only makes the animal uncomfortable, it affects their overall productivity and performance. The body takes the nutrients that is needed for growth and uses them to repair the skin that is damaged. In dairy cows, this can lead to a decrease in milk production and in sheep, a decrease in wool quality. Sheep can be burned sheared or unsheared since the radiation is strong enough to penetrate through the wool. Pigs are one of the lucky animals that can protect itself form the suns rays. By wallowing in mud, the pig is forming a protective coating that shields the skin from the sun. Light coated animals are not as lucky. Cows and horses with predominantly white coats suffer more sunburn than those with dark coats. However, dark coats absorb more sun, which leads to more symptoms of heat stress.
UV radiation isn’t the only determinant of sunburn in animals. Animals that feed in wheat pastures with certain weeds are likely to develop photosensitivity. This is caused by a reaction within an animal’s body when the chlorophyll in some wheat plants release a toxin that increases sensitivity to the sun. Weeds such as barley, alsike clover, St. John’s Wort, nettles and others are some of the culprits in photosensitivity and can also be the causes of liver damage and neurological disorders that develop in the animal.
Preventing sunburn doesn’t just mean keeping them out of the sun, although providing a shady place for the animals can definitely help. If the sun is a concern, baby formula sunscreen can protect the areas that are more vulnerable to sunburn. Another way of decreasing sunburn is restricting the access of wheat pasture the animal is consuming to prevent photosensitivity. Adding grass hay in the morning when grazing intake is high helps in restraining the animal from consuming too much wheat during those times.