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This Week’s Creature Feature ... Beating the Barnyard Heat

Whether mammals sweat or pant, heat gets us all down

You’re not the only species suffering in this summer’s dog days. Farm animals overheat much the same way you do, according to the Maryland Farm Bureau.
    So Maryland farmers get creative to keep their charges cool.
    You can’t sweat like a pig because, like dogs and cats, pigs don’t sweat. The species’ natural remedy, mud, not only cools them down but also works like sunscreen.
    When the temperature climbs above 80 degrees on the mudless Grand View Farm in Kent County, Jennifer Debnam cools her 600 sows with a sprinkler system that sprays them from above and a tunnel ventilation system that whooshes wind over their skin.
    Cows and steers like even cooler temperatures.
    “Cool to a dairy cow is 70 or below,” according to dairy farmer Chuck Fry.
    At his Rocky Point Farm in Point of Rocks, 40 fan groups kick on in stages to cool the cow barn. Fry’s cows get sprinkled, too. “They are like kids under a garden hose,” he says.
    Once the thermal humidity index gets above 72 degrees, “Angus beef cattle get uncomfortable,” according to Steve Isaacson of Brick House Farm in Cecilton.
    He runs fans and sprinklers day and night to be sure the cows’ temperature drops before another hot day. Cows also need a cool place to stand because they transfer heat out of their feet. Isaacson’s farm provides shady spaces in a tree line with access to indoor shed space.
    Even chickens wilt in the heat.
    “A stressed-out chicken pants like a dog and then sits on the ground,” says Lee Richardson who raises thousands of chickens on The Blizzard Farm in Willard.
    That’s not a smart move, because a sitting chicken traps and holds heat under its body, potentially raising its internal temperature mortally high.
    Richardson keeps his chicken house temperature near 60 degrees with a tunnel ventilation system and cooling pads in front of the fan.
    Unlike other barnyard animals, horses do sweat. So on Pam Saul’s Rolling Acres Farm in Montgomery County, you’ll see horses wearing their own version of Under Armour, scrim sheets that bounce the sun’s rays away but allow cool air to penetrate. Horses’ noses can burn like yours, so Saul uses sunscreen for light-colored horses with pale noses.
    Whether they pant or sweat, farm animals are like you in another way. All of us need to drink plenty of water to beat the heat.