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Farmers keep animals cool as barnyards sizzle in heat wave

  • Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dairy farmer Arthur West has installed a sprinkler outside the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm to cool off his herd of registered Holsteins as they go out to pasture each night.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Dairy farmer Arthur West has installed a sprinkler outside the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm to cool off his herd of registered Holsteins as they go out to pasture each night.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dairy farmer Arthur West does the afternoon milking of his herd of registered Holsteins at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Dairy farmer Arthur West does the afternoon milking of his herd of registered Holsteins at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins makes good use of their water bowls during the afternoon milking at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

    Dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins makes good use of their water bowls during the afternoon milking at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.
    KEVIN GUTTING Purchase photo reprints »

  • Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Dairy farmer Arthur West has installed a sprinkler outside the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm to cool off his herd of registered Holsteins as they go out to pasture each night.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Dairy farmer Arthur West does the afternoon milking of his herd of registered Holsteins at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Eight fans keep the air moving around dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins in the milking barn at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING
  • Dairy farmer Arthur West's herd of registered Holsteins makes good use of their water bowls during the afternoon milking at Hartsbrook Farm in Hadley Monday.<br/>KEVIN GUTTING

At Hartsbrook Farm on Bay Road this week, the black and white milk cows spent the 95-degree days in the shady barn with eight fans blowing on them, and their nights outside, standing under the spray from sprinklers.

“They love it,” farmer Brian West said of the sprinklers. “They’ll go out and stand right under them.”

While humans may be suffering in the heat, many animals are enjoying the sweltering temperatures even less. Cows prefer temperatures no higher than 65 degrees; anything above 80 degrees and they start to eat less and make less milk. Horses, while they can handle higher temperatures, don’t like the humidity, which means they can’t cool themselves as well through sweating. Alpacas, meanwhile, have to go around all summer with a fleece coat on.

“It’s a challenge,” West said of keeping his livestock comfortable. “You just have to do everything you can to keep them cool.”

Michael Katz, a veterinarian at Hampshire Veterinary Hospital in Amherst, said he rarely sees animals suffering from heat exhaustion or heat stroke these days. He said people are being smarter about keeping animals cool, from not leaving pets in parked cars to making sure anything from a dog to a draft horse doesn’t overexert itself in the midday sun.

Animals, whether they’re pets or livestock, need to be out of the sun and have water available all the time, he said. If they can’t be outside in a shady place with a breeze, fans can help keep them cool inside. Animals in poor health are especially susceptible to heat stress or stroke, Katz said, and owners should be vigilant to see if the animal is behaving oddly, including appearing weak or uncoordinated.

“You have to keep an eye on them, that’s the most important thing,” he said Tuesday. “You’re keeping an animal in captivity, so it’s playing by your rules and you have to be smart about it.”

Chilling in the barnyard

Area farmers don’t need a lesson in animal cooling — they have learned all the tricks to keeping their livestock happy in the heat.

West said the fans are usually enough to keep the barn comfortable most summer days, but on Monday morning he turned on the lawn sprinklers he has rigged up on poles in the barnyard to shower water down on the cows. He also made sure the cows were in the barn by 11 a.m.

“As soon as they started bunching up in the shade under the trees, I brought them in,” he said.

West said he cares about the bovines and wants them to be comfortable, but he has a financial interest in their happiness as well. Cows that are heat stressed produce less milk.

According to a Penn State report on bovine heat stress, milk production can drop by 3 to 20 percent when the temperature rises over 90 degrees. Cows sweat only 10 percent as much as humans, the report said, so it’s not as effective for cooling the body.

“They go into cooldown mode, and they’re burning energy just trying to stay cool,” West said. “They’re not eating as much and they’re drinking a lot of water. Misting can help, but (milk production) can still drop five to eight pounds a day.”

He said his cows can handle the rare 95-degree day. “It’s when it’s three or four days in a row that they hate it,” he said. “And the humidity they really don’t like. If it was 100 degrees and not humid, they’d be OK.”

Meanwhile, the Valley’s alpaca farmers also turned on fans and sprinklers for their camelids, who are native to the Andes Mountains.

“They’re used to harsh conditions,” said Marion Beaudry, who owns Tall Grass Farm in Whately with her husband, Michael Beaudry. “They can deal with the winter much better than the summer.”

That’s because of their thick, woolly hair. “We shear them in May so that their coats are short in the summer, but long enough to keep them warm in the fall and winter,” Beaudry said. “They probably have a half-inch of fleece now, so it is warm for them.”

At the Christian Lane farm, the 26 alpacas can come and go from the barn or stay in the shade of their pasture. In the barn Tuesday, fans blew around the clock, Beaudry said, and she put electrolytes in the alpacas’ water to guard against dehydration.

The “low profile” sprinklers Tall Grass Farm uses are specially made for alpacas. They sit on the ground where the alpacas walk over them to get an underbelly bath. Beaudry said the animal’s underside is its “thermal window,” or the part of the body that loses heat the easiest.

“If you can keep the thermal window cool, they’ll be OK,” she said. Spraying water on top of an alpaca with a thick fleece coat is pointless. “It will just create more steam.”

They try to keep the animals from exerting themselves, she said. “Our pastures are green and lush, but it takes too much energy for them to go out to graze,” she said. They feed on high-quality hay instead, she said. They don’t want the alpacas to expend extra energy trying to digest low-quality feed.

At Starlight Farm in Hadley Tuesday, horses were dealing with the heat just fine, said trainer Dani Corkill.

“They can sweat, so that’s how they cool themselves down,” she said. So even if it is quite hot, a horse would only become heat stressed if it was overworked or was unable to sweat effectively due to high humidity.

Corkill said riders and trainers at the boarding stable for between 10 and 15 horses only ride in the morning or evenings on extremely hot days, and take steps to make sure their steeds can cool down after.

“We have fans, we give them cool showers,” she said. They also take their horses down to the Mill River, which runs through the back of the Stockbridge Street property, after a ride. “Most will go in to cool down or get a drink,” she said.

When they’re not being ridden, the horses are still monitored to make sure they’re comfortable, she said.

“Sometimes they’re outside in the shade if there’s a breeze, but if it’s too hot, they’re inside with fans,” Corkill said. The paddocks also have dirt pits where the horses can dig up the cool dirt and roll in it, she said.

In heat waves like the one scorching the Pioneer Valley this week, good animal owners are constantly checking on their charges, Katz said. “You have to use your judgment and be smart about it,” the veterinarian said.

They’re thinking about more than when they can get back into the air conditioning and a tall glass of lemonade.

“We really love our animals,” Beaudry said. “So we try to keep them as comfortable as possible.”

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.

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