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

 

Hot as “you know what” in Minnesota July 18, 2011

Air conditioners will be working overtime in Minnesota this week.

SO, MINNESOTANS, here’s the weather question of the day: “How hot is it outside?”

Although I’m of German heritage, I’d unequivocally state, “hotter than a Finish sauna.”

With a predicted dewpoint in the 70s (Sunday it reached an almost unheard of 81) and temperatures in the 90s today, the National Weather Service in Chanhassen has continued an extensive heat warning for central and southern Minnesota and west central Wisconsin through 9 p.m. Wednesday.

Heat indexes of more than 105 degrees (some media outlets are saying 110 – 117 degrees) are expected for several-hour stretches during the afternoon, creating “a dangerous situation in which heat illnesses are likely.” Ya think?

That means, folks, that we need to keep ourselves cool (preferably in an air conditioned building), drink plenty of fluids (and we’re not talking alcohol here) and stay out of the sun.

Don't increase your fluid intake via alcohol.

Honestly, when I stepped outside Sunday evening, I felt like I couldn’t breathe. You can guess how long I stayed outdoors. Long enough to turn around and walk back inside the house. I had been out earlier photographing the air conditioner you see above. I had a little trouble with the camera lens fogging over as soon as I stepped outdoors. The windows on our house also fogged, a phenomenon I have not previously seen except when I cook pasta. Weird stuff this weather.

All joking aside, this heat and humidity can be downright dangerous, especially for anyone working outdoors.

I know of some teens supposedly heading to the corn fields early this morning to detassel corn in the Stanton/Northfield area. Here’s my advice: Gulp water, by golly, then gulp some more. Slather on the sun screen, wear a cap and, if you’re at all feeling out of sorts, immediately tell your supervisor. Today would not be the day to tough it out. And, yes, I do know of what I write. As a teen I detasseled corn on days so hot it seemed as if the heavy air would suffocate me in the corn rows.

If you, or your teen, is starting a job this week as a corn detasseler, take extra precautions to avoid heat-related health issues. Also, don't quit. Every week in the cornfield won't be like this one and you' likely work only til noon.

Now, with those dire warnings out of the way, let’s talk about the words and phrases we Minnesotans use to describe this stretch of humid, hot weather. Let me pull out my Minnesota Thesaurus and thumb through the pages.

Here are some select synonyms for our current weather: steamy, muggy, scorching hot, sweltering, a real barn burner, so hot you could fry an egg on the pavement, like a sauna, “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity”…

Whichever words you choose from that non-inclusive list, you might want to add, “It could be worse.” We Minnesotans like to tack that little phrase onto our statements lest, by not adding that qualifier, we leave ourselves open to worse circumstances/situations/weather. We do not want to tempt fate.

After all, come December, we could get socked with a raging blizzard that dumps two feet of snow on us followed by a week of temperatures plummeting to 20-below, and that’s without the windchill. We wouldn’t want to invite a Siberian winter by forgetting, this week, to say, “It could be worse.”

A snow pile divides traffic lanes along Fourth Street/Minnesota Highway 60 a block from Central Avenue in Faribault following a December 2010 snowstorm.

In summary, it’s best, really, not to overly-complain about the hellish, hot, scorching, stifling, steamy, sticky, sweltering, miserable, muggy, unbearable, oppressive heat and humidity. OK, then?

And, please, don’t be thinking, “Whatever, Audrey.”

IT’S YOUR TURN to speak up. How would you describe this weather we’re experiencing in Minnesota? How are you coping? Add your ending to this prhase: “It’s so hot in Minnesota that…”  Submit a comment and tell me whatever.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling