Keeping youth, animals safe a priority

EVART — The week of the Osceola County 4-H FFA Fair takes place right in the middle of summer, and temperatures so far this year have been in the '90s, causing both animals and 4-H'ers additional stress.

"Water is the big thing," said Jerry Lindquist, a grazing educator for Michigan State University Extension. "People who have a lot of animals should have a plan and a way to get them water in case something were to happen."

Youth, parents, club leaders and 4-H superintendents worked tirelessly to keep all animals as cool and hydrated as possible with plenty of water and other tricks.

"We have a lot of eyes here, and people watching over the animals at all times," Lindquist added.

Making sure livestock have plenty of water is the first step, but often 4-H'ers use other ways to provide a cooler atmosphere for their animals. Pigs need to be sprayed with water for their body temperature to drop, but not with cold water, or the animal could go into shock and die. Another option is to have large blocks of ice in the pens for the animal to lean up against. Frozen bottles of water can be used in rabbit pens for such a purpose.

Ventilation and movement of air also contributes to cooling off barns when the lack of a natural breeze becomes problematic. Industrial fans are set up and positioned in each barn for airflow to continue throughout.

Although all livestock are susceptible to heat, pigs and chickens are a higher risk because they are animals which have high stress levels, which raises their metabolic rate, Lindquist said.

"Some animals aren't used to be moved a lot, so when we bring them to the fair, that's one stress," he added. "When we add heat, that's another stressor. It can be hard to cool an animal down."

Other livestock, like some goats, handle heat better because of the geographic place of origin. Other types of goats, sheep and cows may have issues when temperatures rise. Milk production in dairy cows may drop as well.

"Weather cannot totally be controlled and that makes agriculture a little more challenging," Lindquist stated.

Live poultry exhibiting was not allowed this year at the fair due to a decision by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development as a precaution against avian influenza, and the choice may have been a blessing in disguise according to Osceola Count 4-H Coordinator Jake Stieg.

Unfortunately, when conditions become too much for some animals, fatalities do occur. This year, two pigs succumbed to heat-related issues.

"We plan to do the best we can, but sometimes they can't handle it," Lindquist said.

In addition to animals, children who participate in multiple 4-H events in the hot sun need to stay hydrated and keep cool while not in the show ring.

Stieg made sure to remind the youth and their parents to drink lots of water during the day to stay refreshed. In addition, 4-H judges on July 27 allowed the youth to change into casual wear during competitions and 4-H officials provided bottles of water to those in need of a cool drink. At the 4-H Dairy Booth, ice cream treats are on sale for a low price.

"The top priority is to protect the youth," Stieg said. "We do everything we can to make sure they are as comfortable as possible in any situation."