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Caring for fair animals during hot weather

CENTREVILLE, MI — Sometimes fair weather can be near perfect with comfortable temperatures and sunny days. The 2017 St. Joseph County (MI) Grange Fair was not quite so agreeable with temperatures reaching the high 80s and above, and the sun being quite intense with few breezes to cool anything off. While people needed to keep themselves hydrated, 4-H members, parents, leaders, and livestock superintendents had extra responsibilities as the animals in their care required additional monitoring and attention.

Goats tend to be able to handle some extreme heat with little to no effect to their systems. During the county fair, several fans were installed, causing an increase in the air flow throughout the building. Watering was also a priority while the temperatures were high. “We tell the kids to change the water regularly and replace it with cold water on the hour,” 4-H Goat Superintendent Diana Yeager said. “They are told to wash their animals down during the day to cool them off.”

The poultry department has had its issues through the years and high temperatures are not conducive to comfortable birds. The members had spritzers full of water available for them to use as they spray the heads of the poultry. As the water hits the heads of the birds, their feathers smooth down on their backs, indicating that the bird is more comfortable. The leaders also collected bags of ice to place between fans and the cages of the birds.

4-H parent Jennifer Bennett shared the methods they were using to keep the swine cooler. Again, fresh water on a regular basis along with moving them to the wash racks for baths to keep their body temperature under control. The window flaps on the buildings were left open all the time to allow for air movement. “The young people are encouraged to wipe down their pigs with damp cloths to help keep the animals cooler,” Bennett said.

The rabbits need some extra attention when the weather is hot and steamy. Their ears are what gets the warmest and causes the most problem. The children were told to slightly wet down the animal’s ears and spritz their heads. Again, many members changed and refilled the water dishes frequently along with the leaders and parents. A common sight during fair week was frozen bottles in the cages; they were a cooling agent for the animals.

Shearing the sheep helps a great deal when the weather is uncomfortably warm. 4-H Sheep Superintendent Tim Miller shared some ideas with his members that provided less stress on the animals. While coating the animals is a good idea when showing them, it is quite dangerous during hot days and nights. He insisted that the coats be removed and fans helped keep the animal’s body temperature lower. “I tell the kids to stay out of the pens because the sheep are hot,” Miller said. “The animals don’t want to be touched.”

In addition to the care for the animals, two 4-H mothers offered refreshments during the market auction. The young people could have a grilled hot dog on a bun, a small bag of chips, a popsicle, and bottled water as they were waiting their turn for the auction ring. The members are traditionally lined up by their placings and usually are outside where the heat was more intense. Several of these young people were in the sale arena multiple times for absent college student siblings and friends. “I told Kelly (Spence) that I heard it was going to be hot on Thursday of fair and I was going to take water and popsicles,” 4-H parent Erin Hackett said. “Kelly decided that she was going to bring hot dogs and chips so the kids could have some lunch.”

The farming community offered some assistance to relieve the efforts of keeping the animals safe and comfortable. William Nofziger Farms near Scott, IN shared their expertise of ventilation and air movement in the poultry barns. The local TSC store in Sturgis, MI provided 15 large fans for the market auction, and then the units were distributed between the various livestock barns.

Each of the 4-H superintendents, leaders, parents and members applied valuable lessons about good work ethics, prioritizing their responsibilities, time management, and assisting each other during difficult times. “This is the full essence of 4-H,” 4-H Rabbit Superintendent Jackie Brazo said. “The members are helping each other to make the best better.”