2010-07-15 / Local & State

Heat Socks Livestock, Challenges Farmers

By Jessica Bakeman READING EAGLE

READING, Pa. (AP) – Farmer Oscar Manbeck tells it like this: Animals are no different from people.

“You know how you get miserable when it’s 90 degrees or 100 and you don’t have an air conditioner,’’ Manbeck said.

His farm hogs do, too.

Manbeck, like many local farmers, is investing the money to run fans all day and even all night to keep his livestock cool.

The Bethel pork producer said that if the weather continues to serve up 90- to 100-degree days and 80-degree nights, some of his hogs could die, and his pregnant hogs might not have enough energy to deliver, leaving the offspring to die inside of their mothers.

William Lesher of Way-Har Farms in Upper Tulpehocken Township said his 100 milk cows are suffering – and so are his profits.

Each cow is producing 2 pounds less milk each day, he said.

“They don’t feel good. They don’t want to eat,’’ Lesher said. When they don’t eat, they don’t produce as much milk.

“Coupled with the lower milk prices that we’ve had the last two years, it hurts,’’ he said.

Animals that are raised for the meat market will not gain weight as desired, said Sheila Miller, Berks County agricultural coordinator.

The strain of decreased production is intensified by increased energy costs.

Lesher said he spends about $100 more per week in electricity during the summer months to run 10 fans in his barn.

Manbeck said his electricity costs are two or three times the normal rates during hot weeks.

Regardless of the cost, farmers will not neglect their animals, Miller said.

“Farmers take good care of their animals because if they aren’t comfortable and happy, they’re not helping the farmers,’’ she said.

The farmers work to ensure their animals’ health by using sprinklers or hosing them down, and then using fans to bring their body temperature down.

At night, it is usually cool enough to relieve them of the barn’s heat, but Tuesday night, the weather just wouldn’t relent.

“(Tuesday) night was the worst,’’ Manbeck said. “When it’s 100 degrees during the day, then mid-80s during the night, that’s when you lose some animals from being in excessive heat.’’

Christina Vittoria, a veterinarian with Willow Creek Animal Hospital in Ontelaunee Township, said the clinic receives more emergency calls for farm animals during hot stretches of summer.

She said heat stress decreases fertility in cows, making it difficult to get cows pregnant so they will produce milk.

Other farm animals, such as llamas and alpacas, have more severe medical problems because of heat stress. Doctors need to give them liquids intravenously and medication similar to aspirin to lower their body temperatures.

But the direct negative effects on the animals are not the only worries for a farmer.

The farmers grow crops to feed their animals, and this summer’s combination of heat and lack of sufficient rainfall yields far fewer crops than the farmers need.

But the heat is nothing new, Lesher said, and he expects to deal with this every summer.

Manbeck disagrees, asserting that this summer’s weather is worse than he’s seen in a decade.

“Whenever you have a heat wave, upper-90s and it doesn’t cool down at night, it’s going to take a toll,’’ he said.

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