From Our Farm to Your Table

Too Hot for Hooves

Tue, 2018-07-10 10:15 -- Carole Soule

Cooper, his front feet planted squarely in the water-trough, ignored my curses as he chewed his cud and swished his tail. The recent heat wave has been more challenging to my cattle and pigs than the most bitterly-cold winter weather. Most of the Highland cattle who did not shed their winter coats naturally were mechanically clipped.  Even without extra hair, they still suffer in the heat. Cooper decided the trough was his personal foot bath.

The best remedy for heat is water, lots of water for all livestock. Because pigs don't sweat I worry about them the most. All of our pigs have access to shade and water, but Bucky-the-Boar and his pasture mates enjoy tipping over their trough and rolling in the mud.

In sweltering weather, I'll take a hose and spray the hogs to cool them off. I would put a sprinkler in their pasture, but Bucky would grab it in his tusks and tear it to pieces trying to get cool.

Contrary to cruel stereotypes, hogs like to be clean, but they prefer to be cool, and that's why they roll in the mud. They would love to swim in the farm pond – yes pigs can swim – but in a short time they would turn a quaint, tree-lined pond into a mud wallow. So the pond is fenced off; off-limits to hogs.

Keeping pigs cool in hot weather takes a hose

The pond is also off-limits to cattle. If they were allowed, my Highlanders would stand in the middle of the cooling pond water all through the heat of the day. But even cows as civilized as mine have not yet mastered the art of using a “restroom.”

Manure and urine enrich soil and contribute to the growth of grass. When added to a pasture they are the perfect fertilizer. On the other hand, this same nutrient-rich manure in a pond is a disaster. Ten or more cows defecating in a pond will turn the pond into muck, and then that contaminated water will work its way into the ground water. Farmers call that run-off “leachate,” and the U.S. Department of Agriculture takes leachate seriously with strict regulations to control it.

 

This is a good thing. It's crucial to keep leachate out of water that humans will eventually drink. Even the N.H. Department of Agriculture has tackled leachate with a grant program that, among other things, gives farmers funds to protect waterways. Miles Smith Farm has been helped by this state program in keeping our animals from ponds and streams.

While our cattle are not allowed to wade into ponds, we do make sure they have plenty of clean water. The rule is: Cattle water has to be hygienic-enough for humans to drink. This is an easy rule to follow on our home farm in Loudon. But we don't have enough grass to support our seventy head of cattle on the home farm, so we lease pastureland as far away as Barnstead and Alton. The cows love the lush grass, but occasionally there's a breakdown in the water-delivery system at a remote pasture.

So every day either Bruce or I drive out to check the water supply at those pastures to find out when it needs fixing; which is critical in the heat of the summer.

After weeks of evicting Cooper, we finally installed a taller trough whose sides are too high for him to step over. He still has plenty of drinking water, and so does the rest of the herd.

But I think Cooper had the right idea about beating the heat. Never mind the trough though...a good soak in Lake Winnipesake might be in my future.

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