The astonishing and oppressive heat wave that brought the Bay Area to its knees has farm animal caretakers creative in their efforts to keep their shipments relatively cool.
Most farm animals don’t have the luxury of escaping the heat inside air-conditioned sheds, sheds, or homes. Instead, they rely on shade, plenty of water, and any ways humans can think of to relieve the pain.
Sheila Murphy, who owns Alma Bonita Animal Rescue in Morgan Hill, begins by putting ice in pig’s mud puddles, which pigs find fun. Her horses are a bigger concern.
“Our horses don’t enjoy spraying liquids, so we had to be creative,” Murphy says.
Murphy and caretakers soak towels in cold water to secure them to the horses and feed them frozen carrots.
“If we can’t cool it on the outside, we try to cool it on the inside,” she says. “The ice in their water was a godsend, but today, we can’t find any ice.”
Caregivers and even office staff at Animal Place, a farm animal sanctuary in Grass Valley, perform hourly checks on more than 300 animals in their care, looking for signs of heat stress. The classic sign: open mouth breathing.
They’ve invested heavily in swamp coolers — units that take advantage of evaporative cooling — that operate around the clock to cool barns, says Kimberly Storla, CEO and co-founder of the haven.
Sturla says they have plenty of oak trees for shade, and they use hoses and sprays to provide some relief to the animals outside of the barns. Most at risk, she says, are pigs, turkeys, and some breeds of chicken and rabbits, none of which seem to tolerate high heat well.
On the other hand, says Storla, cows, goats and donkeys acclimatize well in the heat. Some cows will even seek out the sun, and Murphy says she has alpacas that spend nearly every day basking in the scorching sun.
The Auckland Zoo’s animals have suffered, too. Erin Harrison, vice president of communications for the 100-year-old zoo, says fanciers filled children’s tubs with cold water and ice, using water jets and sprayers, and made special giant snow globes from diluted frozen juice, coconut milk and Gatorade.
California State Veterinarian Dr. Annette Jones says shade and water are the two most vital requirements for any heat-tolerant animal.
She says shade is essential, but closed structures should also include good ventilation.
Water is also important, Jones says, but people should be aware that water sitting in the sun in heat like this can get very hot. Jones recommends washing hoses and water lines in the late afternoon and providing shade over the water source. She says that large basins are OK in the sun, but that small bowls and drips get very hot very quickly. If your animals depend on well water, she says, it’s best to have a backup plan in case you lose power.
For pet dogs and pigs, a plastic children’s pool in the shade works well for cool dips, says Jones. Sprays and fans also help outdoor animals stay cool, although their use must be balanced with the need to save electricity.
For poultry, it may be necessary to increase ventilation by opening all doors and windows in their stalls on nights when it has not cooled off much. Consider adding a fan, too, says Jones.
Domesticated animals aren’t the only ones suffering from the heat, but Ken Paglia, of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says we shouldn’t do anything unusual to help the wild creatures.
“First of all, please don’t leave food and water for wildlife,” Paglia says. “Most people have good intentions when they do this, but in most cases, ‘problems’ occur with wildlife as a direct result of people feeding them and even providing water sources. Animals learn to associate humans with a food reward and expect that reward from every human they encounter.”
Attracting or maintaining wildlife around homes and developed neighborhoods, even rural properties, increases their chances of being hit by vehicles or entangled in all kinds of home-related hazards, from chicken feeders to volleyball nets, neglected fencing and hammocks, Paglia says.
Paglia also warned motorists to be extra careful in this heatwave and look out for wildlife trying to cross highways in search of water or food.
Don’t forget pets, especially those that spend most of their days outside, says Buffy Tarbox-Martin, director of communications for the Peninsula Humane Society and the SPCA. If possible, they should be brought indoors during this heat wave.
Tarbox-Martin provides ample shade for outdoor pets, and plenty of fresh and cool water for both indoor and outdoor pets. Adding a few ice cubes to a bowl of water can help.
She recommends limiting daily walking in the early morning or late evening, when temperatures are usually cooler, and avoiding walking on hot pavement. If you don’t walk it barefoot, she says, you shouldn’t force your dog to. Do not leave pets in parked cars.
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