At fairs, livestock join people in trying to beat the heat

FARMER CITY — For most folks, the best way to stay cool is to find an air-conditioned place well-stocked with lemonade and ice cream.

But for livestock waiting to be shown at fairs, it's a tougher proposition.

They've got to weather temperatures in the 90s with nothing more than water and wind to keep them cool.

"It's just been terrible," said Gary Chesnut of Fithian, whose son Chris is showing shorthorn cattle at the Farmer City Fair this week.

"He rinses them with water twice a day, keeps them bathed and under fans," he said.

It's easy to tell when cattle are suffering from the heat, Chesnut said.

"When they're in their stalls, they'll be standing up, not resting as good as they should, panting, breathing heavy," he said.

But as long as they're kept in the shade and have air moving on them, they'll likely stay in pretty good shape, he said.

Jake Mohr, 17, of Carlock plans to show 24 sheep — Oxfords, Shropshires and Hampshires — in the open and junior divisions at the fair.

"So far, they all seem to be doing fine," Mohr said Tuesday. "They're panting a little, but that's to be expected when it's 90 degrees out."

Mohr said he keeps the fans on them, makes sure they have plenty of water and shears the fleece as short as allowed for the show.

He also watches for telltale signs of stress.

"You'll see 'em panting, sort of sprawl out," he said. "You can kind of tell by their body language — the way they're sitting."

Tara Miller of Atlanta, Ill., whose daughter and son are showing Angus heifers this week at the fair, said it takes a lot of water to keep cattle comfortable.

"My daughter Ashley has the biggest heifer, and when she starts breathing heavy, Ashley goes to get the hose," Miller said.

"We've watered them three times today since 8:30 a.m., and they drank probably 10 to 15 gallons apiece," Miller said Tuesday afternoon.

Miller said the cattle signal they're hot by getting up and down.

"They're trying to tell us they want to be rinsed off," she said.

Chesnut said well water is effective for cooling animals off.

"The water coming from a well normally is 53 degrees — quite a bit cooler than what they are. It helps drop their body temperatures," he said. "We wet them up for 15 minutes before we put them under a fan."

Chesnut said he was concerned about today's weather and its effect on the cattle.

Temperatures are forecast to reach the mid-90s, and the heat index is expected to climb to the 108-to-113-degree range.

"It's definitely hard on them any time it's this hot," Chesnut said. "It's bad on crops and bad on cattle."

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