Ah, the weather – officially everyone’s favourite subject… We’re used to moaning about wet and chilly summer conditions. Those amongst us who have to wear boots on a daily basis can testify to that - and will no doubt agree that hot weather and wellingtons do not form a happy partnership. But whatever the weather, work continues unabated at Pipers Farm, and the animals all have their own strategies for coping with the heat.
How animals cope with the heat
Most of our animals already have higher normal body temperatures than humans, so if we’re feeling hot it’s pretty certain the animals will be feeling even hotter. Our Red Ruby cattle are native to Devon so are well accustomed to everything the weather can throw at them. But when it gets really stifling they’ll head for a shady spot (one of many reasons why our trees and hedgerows are so important) and will as much as double the volume of water they drink in a day. A cow’s rumen (the first chamber of the ruminant digestive system) is essentially a big fermentation tank where bacteria and micro-organisms start to break down food. This process produces a lot of heat, so in sunny weather, a cow will be warming up from both the inside and the outside. As well as seeking out shade and water to manage their temperature, the cattle may well eat less grass and will continually swish their tails and twitch their skin to keep flies at bay.
Unlike cows, sheep can sweat and will also pant with open mouths. But if you’re carrying around a massive fleece, no amount of sweating or panting can help you cool down. So it’s important that our Suffolk sheep and lambs are sheared early enough to make sure they’re comfortable as temperatures rise. As well as removing the primary cause of overheated sheep, shearing also lets us keep on top of problems caused by flies and insects. Fly eggs laid on a sheep’s wool will quickly turn to maggots that may eat into the flesh. Fly strike is a major and deeply unpleasant issue in sheep farming during the summer. This is why we pay close attention to keeping our ewes and lambs clean and trimmed around their bottoms – a process known as ‘crutching’.
Properly Free Range Chicken
What about our properly free-range chickens, how do they fare in the heat? Well, although all chickens are descended from jungle fowl, they still feel the effects of sudden increases in temperature. Unable to sweat, they release heat through the floppy combs on the tops of their heads and if it gets really extreme they’ll start to molt. We often see our chickens lying in the sun with their wings spread out, as if basking in the warmth. What they’re really doing is letting as much cool air as possible circulate around their bodies.
For our Saddleback pigs, mud is the best defence against the heat and sun. We deliberately let their troughs overflow so the pigs can create mud baths in which they can wallow – the deeper the better as far as they’re concerned. The cooling mud helps reduce their core temperature and has one other beneficial side effect. For pigs with pale or pink ears, sunburn can be a real problem, so, in the absence of sunscreen, a good crust of mud does an excellent job of protecting their delicate skin.
Although all of our animals have strategies for coping with the summer heat, it’s our job to make sure they have an environment that allows them to stay as comfortable and healthy as possible. But though it might be hot out there in the fields, all of the animals have one advantage over us: they never have to wear wellies on a hot day!
Heading to Devon this summer? Why not spend a wonderful night out at one of our Beyond The Hedgerow events, learn more about the way we farm and enjoy a delicious dinner cooked on the fire pit...