How to Beat the Heat this Summer
Farming and ranching are considered among the most hazardous occupations and the transition from spring to summer increases the inherent danger by adding heat-related illness and injuries to the lifestyle. Humans and animals cannot survive without adequate water. Their metabolism requires water intake to maintain a balance of systems and adding the extremes of heat and sun exposure combined with exertion can lead to serious heat illness and death. Workers and livestock must take in adequate water to stay alive in heat.
Heat stroke can come on suddenly and the human victim does not usually notice the symptoms. Disorientation, loss of motor control for limbs, and confusion all are lead-ins to heat stroke and immediate intervention is required with fluids and cooling off while medical personnel are called. In short, people die from this.
Animals can suffer from heat-related illness as well and because of their weight it can be more serious. Animals seek shade and shelter in heat waves and “shut down” their activity levels in response. Owners and managers need to observe safe handling and activity levels when heat is an issue. Hot weather demands a change in schedules for the safety of the animals and to prevent financial loss.
Follow this checklist to avoid heat-related illness and injuries to workers in hot weather:
- Be prepared for the heat and be sure to have water and electrolyte drinks ready and available in advance. Plan to increase the daily workload gradually in heat waves so as to get acclimated to the heat. Be sure to wear a hat and light weight but safe work clothing. Loose fitting shirts allow air to circulate and aid cooling. Plan to get extra sleep to accommodate the extra stress from dealing with extreme heat.
- Try to avoid working during hottest part of the day. Begin early if possible and avoid working in mid-day when temperatures are the highest. Schedule tasks that do not need to be done outdoors for mid-day and return to outdoor work when temperatures are more moderate.
- Drink on a regular schedule. Don’t wait until you are thirsty, and insist that all workers follow this schedule. You can get seriously dehydrated and still not feel thirsty.
- Take regular breaks out of the sun and monitor yourself and others for any signs of heat problems.
- Be aware of heat issues when operating farm machinery; these vehicles generate heat and can increase dehydration and heat danger. Heat causes fatigue and an operator who is in distress from heat issues poses a serious danger to others.
- If you see anyone who is showing signs of stress from heat and dehydration take immediate action by getting them into the shade and cooling them off with water. Get emergency help right away.
Follow this checklist to prevent harm to livestock in heat situations:
- Make sure all livestock have clean and cool water available at all times.
- Provide shade areas for pasture stock and avoid any training or unnecessary exertion. Horses need to not be worked on hot days so be sure to advise trainers or boarders that it is not advisable to work their horses in heat spells and have this in your boarding agreements.
- Check barn water tanks and make sure they are topped off. Horses will overturn a half empty water container if you use freestanding ones. Make sure all automatic pumps are working in the barn and in pastures.
- Monitor animals’ behavior and watch for any deviations. Horses and equines will colic from thirst and immediate intervention is necessary. Consider using video monitors to check livestock remotely.
- Mares, foals and senior horses need more fluids in heat, be sure to add equine electrolytes as necessary.
- Certain animals need extra care during heat spells. Pigs have delicate skin so shade areas or pens are necessary. Chickens and poultry don’t do well in heat as well. Make sure to do extra checks to see how they are doing and that fresh water is always available.
Staying safe and healthy during heat waves means staying hydrated and working smarter. Being ready to adjust to extremes of temperature and still get the necessary done is a smart business practice on the farm.