Heat Coping Strategies For You and Your Animals

Yikes!  It’s 85 degrees at 7:00am and it’s not even officially summer yet.

There are many things I like about living in the desert, but summer is not on the list.  It wasn’t so bad back when I spent my days inside an air conditioned home, but now I am outside most of the day working with animals, mucking pens, pulling weeds or, if I am inside, I am hovering over a hot stove cooking caramel or jam to sell (which is delicious by the way).

Heat Coping Strategies For Your Animals

  1. Pick breeds that can handle the heat—The most important thing you can do to help your animals is pick breeds that can handle the desert heat.  Not all breeds were created equally.  Some breeds do better in the cold, some in humidity and some in the dry heat we get here.  Most of our animals at Flip Flop Ranch are breeds that originally came from Africa or the south and therefore have genetics that make them very able to withstand our blazing summer.

Other breeds are not genetically adjusted to the heat.  The industrial Cornish X chicken, for instance, has been bred to do well inside a climate controlled barn.  A friend of our’s purchased 250 of these chickens to raise in an outside pen here in Lucerne Valley and lost all 250 over the last summer.  Ouch for their pocket book and how sad for the chickens.

  1. Shade—Your animals have to have shade.  There’s just no way around it.  Now granted if we’re talking horses you’ll spend hundreds of dollars on a shelter and they’ll never use it, but if we’re talking the rest of farm livestock I guarantee they’ll be happily laying in that shade during the hot part of the day.  At our ranch, we just put up simple shelters made from wood pallets.  They cost us about $20 each and we convinced friends to help us out with building them when we were overwhelmed time-wise.  There’s no excuse to not have shelters for your animals!
  1. Plenty of Water—Animals (and humans too!) need plenty of water to get through the day.  Imagine how big a horse is and they drink up to 10 gallons a day.  Pigs can drink up to 7 gallons, goats 2 gallons, and a chicken can drink up to a liter (four cups) of water a day in the hot summer!

Heat Coping Strategies For The Farmer

  1. Get out of the heat—During the hottest parts of the day, I escape inside.  You just can’t work in heat as bad as we get.  Of course I am a sissy girl.  I do hire workers and send the young guys out to do the hard work as the heat doesn’t bother them as much, but even they need to come in for a popsicle break every now and then.

When I am outside, I try to stay out of direct sun.  I will go a little out of my way to walk from shade spot to shade spot.  Anybody watching from the second story would probably think I was crazy-zig zagging all over the property.  But when it’s 105 degrees outside in High Desert sunshine, it’s worth it.

  1. Adjust Your Routine—Get up early, feed late and have a siesta in the middle.  That’s the only way to farm in our environment.  Sometimes at Flip Flop Ranch, we even turn on floodlights or our car headlights and do chores in the dark just to catch up with what we avoided in the heat.
  1. Dress like a Bedouin—Look, the people of the middle east dress like they do for a good reason.  Light colored, baggy clothing and a head covering is a must for surviving the desert heat.  We always wear a hat and usually have a damp handkerchief under it.  Keep that skin covered and don’t just depend on sunscreen.

Remember

Living in high heat (and our occasional summer humidity) is very stressful for us and for our animals.  Heat makes animals of all varieties vulnerable to heat stroke and disease, decreases weight gain (or increases weight gain for humans sipping Kool-aid all day) and lowers reproductive rates.  If you notice any changes in your animal’s behavior, if they’re lethargic or panting, it may be best to contact your veterinarian.

At Flip Flop Ranch, we always try to be our own veterinarian when able to, but sometimes you have to dish out the money so make prevention your first goal!  There are a few things you can do to help your animals if they are suffering severely from the heat: Move your animal to shade immediately, if possible; hose down your animal with cool water (or immerse to the head if a smaller animal); apply cold ice packs around the neck, chest, and between the legs; and apply rubbing alcohol to feet, back, and legs.

Prevention and management is the number one tool for livestock and human well being during weather extremes. Try to keep you and your animals cool so you don’t need to battle heat stroke!

What do you do to help your animals make it through the summer heat? 

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Printed in the Daily Press by Moi