Well, this might be irrelevant at this point as much of the states have made it through the worst of the heat wave, but I couldn’t help but share a few things I’ve learned over the past few weeks while dealing with the extreme heat in Michigan.
If you follow my personal blog, you’ll learn that my little moorit ewe, Gertrude, is sick. We’re not even sure of what she has, but it started when she got “White Muscle Disease” (lack of selenium and vitamin E) at the height of the heat wave. Since then she has been battling a high fever (106-107º) for more than a week, as well as severe anemia causing edema of her entire body, weakness and lethargy. Basically this means that her body stopped absorbing protein, wasn’t producing enough red blood cells and her immune system was fighting either a nasty bug or itself, unfortunately.
The heat wave we’ve had was obviously not helping my woolly buddy to stay cool and comfortable through the worst of her illness, and it was hot enough to inflict frustrating conditions on all of the animals we share our lives with, so I spent the last few weeks reading up on (and inventing) various ways to keep our animals cool.
Here are a few of those that I found worked best:
- For Wooled Livestock: Evaporating water cools the air around it. Try installing sprinklers in various places, not to wet the animal themselves (this can cause wool to flatten and can overheat the animal!) but to create an area with cooler air. We set up sprinklers to shoot water up onto the undersides of the leaves of trees that provide shade, as well as on the grass beneath. This worked really well for us and Gertrude spent some time when she was feeling a bit better digging up the grass with her hooves to expose the cool dirt below.
The other place we put a sprinkler for the sheep was definitely the most beneficial. We hooked up a rotating-head sprinkler on the corrugated metal roof of our barn and twice a day would run the sprinkler until the water running off the barn roof was cool to the touch. This would cool the barn down by at least 5-10º!
It’s important to remember that fuzzy animals (well, all of them really) burn through a lot more vitamins and nutrients when it’s hot out. I provided my sheep with extra vitamins E and B, and a bit of extra selenium as well as a new more palatable mineral mix. When it was really hot (and when Gertrude got sick) I provided higher protein hays that included extra alfalfa, and a sprinkling of black oiler sunflower seeds in their morning grain for extra protein as well.
- For Chickens: Provide lots of water, obviously. I found that they love to dig in deep sand and dirt when they’re hot, dust bathing and using the fine grains to cool their bodies. They also loved to lay in the areas of grass that I wetted each morning, both because of the cool air and because the cool air attracted bugs that would otherwise be too hot to fly around. The chickens also were given a bit of extra scratch in the evening, as they weren’t as active in foraging during the day.
To compensate for mineral loss, I splurged and bought the chickens a free range poultry mineral block which they spent pecking and scratching at for days.
- For waterfowl: Our ducks struggled quite a bit in this heat. Whenever I set sprinklers for my gardens, I always considered the ducks a bit and offset the sprinklers just a tad so that they would sprinkle cool water over an area the ducks could have access to. I also occasionally just set a small spot-sprinkler up in the middle of the yard to let them cool off in. The biggest trouble was that the large bins of water that I normally have for them (2 x 3 x .75′) are black plastic, so when the heat really got bad the water in those was too hot to cool the ducks down, even in the shade. I made sure to give them lots of small pans of water throughout the day so that they could cool themselves internally, rather than drinking water that was hot and miserable. The mother ducks were very good at recognizing when the ducklings were struggling, and they followed the cool spots around the property throughout the day, often huddling in the deepest of shades beneath the mock orange bushes.
The heat makes everyone miserable, and as a fairly new farmer it’s important to be able to adapt your ideas, construct your own remedies and think on your feet. One of the things farmers often forget when caring for overheated animals is to care for themselves as well. Take LOTS of breaks, keep hydrated, and realize that sometimes even if you are taking breaks and hydrating, it is possible to overwork yourself. Learn to recognize signs of heat exhaustion (dizziness, slurred speech, extreme irritability) before they become as serious as sun poisoning or heat stroke! Remember, if the farmer can’t tend her/himself, they can’t tend the farm either!
Do you keep livestock, and how do you cope with extreme heat?
Want to read more from Tanglewood Farm? Check out Emily’s blog over at A Pinch of Something Nice where she writes about her experiences with her gardens, her livestock and her leased historical home in SE Michigan.
In case you’re wondering, Gertrude is very much so herself these days. She is on her feet at least 50% of the time, but she still struggles with a fever of 106º that breaks for a few hours and then resumes. She is on banamine (anti-inflammatory) as well as just about everything I can think of to shove down her throat (I can tell she is feeling better, since she has knocked me on my butt at least three times this week alone), and has been treated with two types of antibiotics at this point. She is still eating and functioning well, just very tired from the fever. Alas, a mystery.