Review: Adaptation of ruminant livestock production systems to climate changes

Review, Scientific journal article


This article reviews information on climate change impacts and adaption in livestock systems. Options investigated, include those addressing direct impacts on animals, indirect impacts on availability of water and feed, and feed quality. Three examples highlight climate impacts and potential adaptation options: cattle in France, dairy in Australia, and sheep and goats in Ethiopia. Land degradation, changes in species composition, and expanding pest distributions due to climate change will also impact livestock systems.


Successful adaptation must consider, and is reliant, on local conditions. For instance, in regions where there is a trend to summer dominated rainfall, changes to C4 grasses could increase productivity. Similarly, the selection of livestock breed, and pasture species should reflect the balance of productivity and robustness suited to the location and system. Some options are more broadly applicable, for example, reductions in crude protein of forage will likely require protein supplementation in extensive systems. Improvements to feedlots to reduce heat stress include diet changes to reduce heat load, frequent water changes, provision of shade or sprinklers. Potential water shortages require increasing the number of dams, storage tanks, and watering points as well as shading dams and watering points to increase water availability and reduce impacts of heat stress.


The review identified future research priorities including several topics on pasture requiring more analysis. Further details on climate change impacts and interactions on forage quality and quantity are required. There is also a need to identify location specific, tipping points, for switching pasture species over short and long timeframes. The extent to which different pasture species mixes could support livestock in future climates would also be informative. Developing strategies to address new pests and diseases in a region will be important as their ranges expand into areas previously uninhabitable. Incorporating the cost of extreme events into the costs and benefits of management of these events is crucial in evaluating the effectiveness of options. Longer-range weather forecasting will support decision-making and provides a proactive risk management strategy for these types of events.