Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This little piggy can go home July 20, 2011

THE RICE COUNTY FAIR in Faribault officially opened at 5 p.m.Tuesday.

But even before then, fair officials were telling 4-H kids and other livestock exhibitors that, because of the excessive heat and humidity, they could arrive late and take their critters home after judging, according to information I heard on local radio station KDHL.

Then Tuesday at 10 p.m., my 17-year-old received a text message and asked me to switch the TV to KARE 11 news. “Adam’s going to be on,” he said. And sure enough, 30 seconds later the camera focused on his friend Adam Donkers spraying a pig with water in the swine barn at the fair. Adam informed viewers that hogs can’t sweat so he was sweating for them by cooling them with water. His family farm lost 11 pigs overnight due to heat stress.

So that got me thinking about excessive heat warnings for livestock, none of which I’ve heard. That doesn’t mean, however, that such warnings haven’t been issued; I simply might not be tapping into the right media sources.

This morning I checked the Rice County Fair website, but didn’t find any information there. I do know that fair officials brought extra fans into the barns on Tuesday.

Then I googled “livestock heat warning,” only to find warnings (not all of them current) from places like Kansas, Iowa, Nebraska and Montana. Not Minnesota.

I googled the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, the Minnesota Pork Producers, the Linder Farm Network and the University of Minnesota Extension Service and, in quick scans of the websites, found nothing.

But then, I suppose, most farmers already understand the importance of keeping their swine, cattle, poultry and other animals cool with fans and water during extended periods of excessive heat and humidity like we’re experiencing in Minnesota. Yesterday the heat index reached 119 in Minnesota, the highest since July 11, 1966. The dew point soared to an all-time high of 82.

But back to those animals… Some may question why removing livestock from the fair would help because conditions are just as hot back on the farm. Consider the stress factor. Take an animal out of its familiar environment, load it into a trailer or truck, haul it to the fair, place it among strange animals and gawking people in unfamiliar surroundings, and stress multiplies. I mean, how would you feel?

IF YOU’RE A FARMER with cattle, swine, poultry or other animals, how are you keeping your animals comfortable and cool during this weather? How is the excessive heat affecting your animals? Have you lost any due to heat stress? How are your crops faring? Submit a comment and share.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

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