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Stay cool when the heat is on at the fair

My weekly chat with my mom reminded me that it’s county fair time in the northern parts of the US. While we’re lucky to not have the oppressive heat and humidity that some of the southern states have, it can and does get hot and humid. I recall a few show days from my 4-H years that were extra hot and a break in the shade with a wet towel was in order. This week, I thought I would share some thoughts on keeping everyone safe while at the fair.

Stay Hydrated

We all know that when the temperature goes up, we need to stay hydrated, especially when we have to be outside. This means drinking plenty of water, preferably cool water. Stay away from drinks with caffeine or alcohol. Your livestock will need more water too. As the temperature rises from 70oF to 90oF, water consumption can almost double. The amount of airflow in the barn, or shade over the tie-out will affect water requirements too. Plan to water your animals more often as the heat rises, making sure they have drunk their fill before removing the bucket or leaving the tank.

Dress for Success

Each fair has a little different dress code when it comes to the show ring. However, the common threads are jeans and boots; neither of which are very friendly when show day is the hottest day of the week. If your fair doesn’t provide a T-shirt, or you aren’t wearing a club T-shirt, plan to wear your lightest colored show shirt. Dark colored clothing absorbs sunlight and will make you feel warmer. If you’re in all dark colors, stay in the shade as much as possible. Always remember, if you are hot in the sun, your animals are too. Especially if you aren’t slick shearing your animals. Side note, if you are showing slick shorn lambs or light colored cattle, they can and will get sunburned.

Teri Walsh at her first 4H Show, Crawford County, IA

Teri Walsh at her first 4H Show, Crawford County, IA

Know the Signs

Livestock will show a number of signs related to heat stress:

  • Slobbering or excessive salvation
  • Foam around the mouth
  • Panting or open mouth breathing
  • Lack of coordination
  • Trembling

You might also notice that your animal has gone off feed. When you see these signs, move your animal to a shaded, less crowded area and get a fan on them. You can also wet the animal to help with cooling. Offer your animal cool water to drink. If your show has a vet on hand, you may consider asking them to have a look at your animal.

People tend to be a little more reluctant to admit something is wrong, particularly if the show is going their way. Heat exhaustion and heat stroke are very serious conditions and should not be taken lightly or ignored. Signs of heat exhaustion include cool, moist, pale or flushed skin, heavy sweating, headache nausea, dizziness, weakness and exhaustion. If you notice someone with these signs, move them to a cooler place, remove or loosen tight clothing (shoes and socks), apply a cool, wet cloth to the skin. Fan the person and have them drink sips of cool water. Heat stroke requires immediate medical attention. If a person has hot, red skin, changes in consciousness, vomiting and high body temperature, call 911 immediately.

Try to Prevent and Take a Break

When you know that show day is going to be a hot one, there are a few things you can do to help your animals cope.

Changing the feeding time is one step. Your animals’ body temperature rises throughout the day, peaking early evening. Feeding early in the morning can help keep them on feed, as that is when they have the lowest body temperature. If the barn you’re housed in has poor circulation, bring a fan to keep air moving over your animals. This will help keep them cooler and more comfortable.

Regardless of how much you work to prevent, there will be times that you just have to step back and take a break. When you are to the point of being hot and dizzy, there is no way you can be ready for the next class by standing in front of the barn fan. If your animal is showing any signs of heat stress, taking them into the ring can be just as dangerous as you carrying on with the same signs. No trophy or belt buckle with worth risking your health or safety for, let alone your best four-legged friends’.

When it comes to high heat and humidity, it’s best to play it safe. Watch your animals and your fellow fair goers for signs of destress related to heat. To learn more about what to do, please click the links below.

American Red Cross Heat Wave Safety

National Weather Service Heat Safety

Iowa State Extension Animal Care Resources

North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Transporting Livestock