Baby, It’s Hot Outside

The heat continues to blister here in the Midwest.  I am hearing horror stories of losses to all live meat animals.  Would guess many livestock producers will be upgrading their cooling systems to survive these types of heat spells… We have experienced these grueling conditions a few times over our 70 years in the livestock business; it may be another decade before we feel this heat and humidity again.

A few days ago we received 13,000 male turkeys (toms).  Spent the previous week preparing our 60-year-old brooder house.  This brooder house hasn’t missed a year without at least two flocks of turkeys being started in it (the first flock in 1951 was of bronze turkeys; white turkeys had yet to be widely commercialized).

We work on the gas stoves, waterers and other equipment to ensure that everything is operating in top order… we can’t risk anything quitting working.  But sanitizing is the top priority.  We start by pressure-washing with hot water the walls, windows, ceiling, floor, waters, feed lines, and following that with a disinfectant rinse.  Then the building sits empty… the hot weather is a great disinfectant in itself.  We haul bags of wood shavings to cover the floor, then wash hand-waterers and feeders. 

The weather was hot and muggy, and we were in a constant sweat just from fighting off the flies.

The baby turkeys (or poults) arrived around 5 p.m. after a nearly seven-hour drive from the hatchery.  We unloaded 13,000 poults in less than 25 minutes.  With Monday’s high temps reaching the lower 100’s, the poults were extremely warm upon arrival.  Over the next five hours, they attacked the water.  I stayed in the brooder house watching over them… making sure they didn’t pile and smother.  A few of them became wet as they crashed the waterers with reckless abandon.  Once wet they became cold… so I adjusted the heat higher.  This yo-yo’ing demanded all of my experience to read the birds and make the right adjustments.  Yes, we bemoan the hot weather and wonder, could this have been done or that.  It doesn’t really matter; here are 13,000 baby turkeys that you want to keep alive… so you do what you must.  By 10 pm the birds finally leveled off the water and began to eat.

Today is day three: the high heat persists and the birds are lethargic.  Babies like heat but need periods of cooler temperatures to offset it.  Night time temperatures drop only into the upper 70’s.  Have spent an inordinate amount of time in the barn with them… they appear okay, but I suspect the high heat has already taken a minor toll that may possibly be seen when we sell them the first week of December (lower weights and more variable individual weights).

This afternoon I attended the funeral of my dear friend and third-grade teacher.  She was 92-years-old and had attended a one-room country school house with my father back in the early 1930’s.  As we traveled from the church to the cemetery, I found some solace in the simple courtesy of people pulling their cars off the road to allow the procession to pass.  At the gravesite, our small group was reciting the 23rd Psalm and the sweat trickling down my forehead wasn’t like that from the labor of the farm…  somehow it was the sweat of humble finality as a teacher and life-long friend was laid to rest.  This sweat was uplifting and comforting.  As I thanked our Creator for her being part of my life, I thought about our resistance to the heat, how we bark and complain, and how, this afternoon, I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else.

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