Holy Hot: Managing Weather Extremes on the Farm
There's no denying we're in the middle of summer in Virginia!
We often get asked how our animals hold up in extreme weather situations, so I thought I would share with you today a couple of things we do on the farm to ensure our animals are well taken care of during these heat waves.
As you know, we aim to raise our animals in a way that closely mimics nature; in a way similar to what their lives would be like in the wild.
Here are few ways we work with nature to keep our animals as comfortable as possible in the heat:
Quite amazing creatures, pigs can be pretty hardy when it comes to weather extremes. As long as they have a few basic needs met, they can withstand heat, freezing temps, wind, rain, hail - a whole lot of variation in weather.
Our pigs live on pasture and/or in woods, depending on where they're moving through the farm. We use electric net fencing to manage their movement, protect them from predation, and to keep them out of the neighbors' gardens.
During the hottest months of the year, we ensure the hogs are moving around in a location where they will always have tree shade.
Just like dogs, pigs don't have sweat glands. They release heat by panting, but have relatively small lungs for their size. For this reason, pigs raised in over-crowded confinement houses are easily susceptible to heat stress. Unable to move away from the crowd, no access to a wallow to cool down, and in highly stressful living conditions, these confinement raised hogs are in a bad situation - especially during extreme heat conditions. And can you image the energy used to keep those massive confinement house fans running just to keep the air moving?
On our farm, on very hot days, the pigs are free to roam their paddock in search of a comfy, shady, breezy spot to rest. We designate a spot in each new paddock to let the hose run for a bit to make a wallowing hole. A pig will wallow to cool down, walk over to the feed and take a few mouthfuls, walk to the waterer to get hydrated, then go settle in under the shade of a tree. A little while later he might walk back to the feed for seconds, wallow a little more, then head back to the shade. There is ample room in our pig paddocks for them to spread out and live their low stress, contented life. And no extra energy is needed via fans and heavy equipment!
Another hardy animal, sheep can also manage very well in extreme weather conditions. We raise a breed of hair sheep called Katahdins. They naturally shed their wool each Spring without our having to shear them, leaving them with a thin layer of hair to protect their skin.
Our sheep live in a savannah; a pasture with dappled tree shade. They have enough shade to catch a break from the sun when needed, but for the most part they are content to graze even in the hottest part of the day. They have access to fresh water whenever needed, though you would be surprised at how little water they drink!
Not too keen on extreme heat, chickens need a little more care on very hot days. However, raising them outdoors on pasture provides a much better situation for preventing heat stress than that of their cohorts raised in confinement. Just like pigs raised in confinement, the chickens raised indoors have very little room to move away from their heat producing roommates. Massive ventilation fans use a considerable amount of energy in an attempt to keep air moving through these barns.
In our pasture shelters, the chickens are protected from predators but have enough room to not be up against each other all day. We also prop the shelters up slightly in the back on hot days to allow a wonderful and constant breeze to flow through and keep the birds cool. And of course, they have plenty of water and shade.
And don't forget the farmers! We also have to ensure that we stay cool and hydrated so we have the energy and strength to care for the animals. We are so thankful for a creek and pond to dip in throughout the day. A hose running over our head also suffices when we just don't have time to swim!
Sometimes things happen and you still lose animals to extreme weather occurrences. It's just part of farming. But in the long haul, when you work with nature instead of against it, you can much more easily manage your way through these times with far less losses and far less energy!