Livestock and pastures could become more productive in humid temperate regions as global temperatures rise by 2 degrees Celsius, but arid and semi-arid regions could become less productive.

Easterling et al., 2007

ILRI/Zerihun Sewunet

Extra facts

  • Climate change will affect livestock production by altering the quantity and quality of feed available for animals. Climate change is expected to change the species composition (and hence biodiversity and genetic resources) of grasslands as well as affect the digestibility and nutritional quality of forage (Thornton et al. 2009).
  • Climate change will directly impact animals through heat stress, changes in water availability (with droughts affecting livestock in particular) and a greater range of livestock diseases and disease carriers (Thornton et al. 2009).
  • Livestock are likely to need more water as temperatures increase. Together with potential reductions in water availability, this could pose a serious constraint on livestock development in certain places. Droughts and extreme rainfall variability can trigger periods of severe feed scarcity, especially in dryland areas, with devastating effects on livestock populations. (CCAFS 2012).
  • There are important differences in how different livestock breeds respond to increased temperatures. However, reductions in the quantity and quality of feed (leading to less feed intake and higher mortality) could make the impacts of climate change on livestock systems severe in certain places.
  • High temperatures impact animals’ food intake and can also impair their reproductive success. Most livestock species thrive at “comfort zones” between 10 and 30 degrees Celsius. At temperatures higher than this, animals reduce their feed intake by 3 to 5 percent for each degree of temperature rise (CCAFS 2012).
  • Climate change could also affect the distribution of vector-borne livestock diseases. These changes occur as a result of shifts in the geographical ranges of ticks, mosquitos, flies and other vectors. Diseases affected by these changes include East Coast fever, babesiosis, anaplasmosis and trypanosomiasis (CCAFS 2012).
  • The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change consensus is that elevated carbon dioxide levels, combined with increases in temperature, precipitation and nitrogen deposition, result in increased primary productivity in pastures, with changes in species distribution and litter composition (Easterling et al. 2007).
  • Relatively few studies look at climate change impacts in tropical regions compared to temperate regions. Knowledge of future impacts of climate change in the tropics is therefore less certain (Easterling et al. 2007).
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Methods, caveats and issues

  • A great deal is unknown about how multiple stresses on livestock systems will combine to impact production.
  • Little is known about the potentially substantial impacts of climate change on livestock pests and diseases (CCAFS 2012).
  • Because pastures are complex plant ecosystems, the future impacts of climate change on the quantity and quality of nutrition for grazing livestock will be difficult to predict and locally specific.
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  • Thornton P, Cramer L. (Eds.). 2012. Impacts of climate change on the agricultural and aquatic systems and natural resources within the CGIAR’s mandate. CCAFS Working Paper 23. Copenhagen: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). (Available from
  • Easterling W E, Tubiello F N, Aggarwal et al. 2007. Food, fibre and forest products. In: Parry, M L, Canziani O F, Palutikof J P, Van Der Linden P J, Hanson C E (Eds.). Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Thornton P, van de Steeg J, Notenbaert M H, Herrero M. 2009. The impacts of climate change on livestock and livestock systems in developing countries: A review of what we know and what we need to know. Agricultural Systems 101: 113-127.
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