All over the media and on the internet, in special news reports, emails and at blog spots and websites, people are talking about the heat wave of 2006. I have avoided discussing the heat, trying my best not to think about it more than I have to (is that even possible?) but a recent thread by knitters and spinners and stories on my local news about jobs that require people to work even in extreme heat, got me to thinking.
Thinking about another area of public life where the farmers and stockmen of our country are overlooked....what do farmers and stockmen do when the temperatures soar above human tolerance? When the longed for cool night breezes fail to appear? When the temperatures before daybreak are already in the 80’s and close to 100 by noontime? When those normally cooling and refreshing summer rains come in the middle of the day and are quickly followed by the steam bath combination of high heat and high humidity? Do we retire to the air conditioned house? Do we pack up the kids and escape to the public pool or beach and splash about playfully? Do we go to library or the mall or a restaurant to relax and cool off without having to wash the dishes after we eat?
We work. And we work harder if we are guardians of livestock who need extra attention and close care when those temperatures hit the high mark (especially if they are wearing wool coats!)
Summer high temperatures just happen to coincide with combining wheat and baling straw:
(There are TWO wagons full of straw waiting to be stacked in the barn. The temperature? 90 plus, with a heat index of 101)
In our part of the country, it is also time to begin making the second cutting of hay. Do we have the luxury of taking a day off and staying indoors when the feed and bedding our animals need to survive the cold winter months lay in the fields waiting? No. The window of opportunity for a farmer to produce any crop is a very narrow one. And you do the job when the time comes.
(Above - hay stacked in the barn)
So what DO we do? Well, for the animals we try to keep them comfortable. At Serenity Farms we don’t go to extreme measures - we are operating a farm, not a pet hotel. But we do our best to make sure the animals have access to shade and always to clean, fresh, cool water.
This means making trips to the barns OFTEN to scrub out buckets and tanks and to refill them. Make a check of the flock or herd to see if anyone is showing any extra sign of stress (Notice in the photo above that the horses have their ears forward, heads up and their eyes are bright, even though their nostrils flare from the heat. Signs of stress would be head down, ears drooping to the side, dull eyes, listlessness) We keep the barn and pens as clean as possible to help reduce the insect population. And what does this mean? It means picking up your pitch fork and shovel and hauling manure. (You can read my earlier post about manure handling on the farm) If you think being a postal worker walking a route in 105 degree temperatures is no fun - try working inside a solidly built barn with minimal airflow and shoveling manure and urine soaked bedding, hoisting a heavy wheel barrow full of the prime stuff and walking it outside to a larger pile of potential fertilizer! (with all due respect to the postal worker, of course!)
We try not to house the animals indoors for much of this time, but in some cases it is the coolest place and a place where they can escape the sun if they don’t have shade trees in their pasture. In my case, my ewe pasture has very little shade especially during the heat of the day. But they do have access to the basement of the old barn where it is cooler and dark on those hot summer days. They make a bee-line for the corner and press themselves against the cool stone walls. In my secondary pasture, the loafing shed has a cement floor and is open sided so that the air circulates through....when there is any air moving!
So maybe the next time we are subjected to this kind of suffocating heat, when you have the chance to sip a frosty milk shake (dairy farmer) or scramble an egg (poultry producer) for breakfast or grill a great all beef burger on the patio (beef producer for the burger; crop grower to provide wheat for flour for the hamburger bun; vegetable grower who supplies the tomato, lettuce and onion to top that burger) or escape to do a little knitting (shepherd) - you will think about the farm family who is working to care for the animals and bring you the product that makes your life a little more enjoyable!
(What looks like a mountain of straw, waiting to be unloaded in extreme heat)
Well, unless you are eating imported beef; produce originating from Brazil or Chile; wool grown in the Andes or eggs produced by the factory farms owned and operated by major world corporations....in that case you might think about the farm family you are helping to put out of business. But that is an opinion best saved for another post....
(That little boy on the wagon working so hard is at least the SIXTH generation of my family to farm...my three year old grandson. This is how the little ones start - with the job of carrying little grain buckets to the lambs or sweeping off the wagons when the straw or hay is unloaded. His mama did it, too, and I hope that life circumstances will allow that there will be others after him, from our family and others, should the Good Lord decide to tarry)