A 4-H or FFA kid showing an animal at the fair has to have specialized knowledge about all sorts of things — including animal sweat.
Knowing how different animals regulate their body temperature helps participants at the Umatilla County Fair keep their animals from overheating in temperatures that are expected to soar to as high as 110 degrees this week.
Daytona Tracy of Hermiston, for example, is showing animals in every category of the “fur and feathers” barn, from guinea pigs to chickens. She said rabbits struggle the most in the heat, because they only have two small sweat glands in their heads and so their large, thin ears do all the work keeping them cool.
“That’s their only heat regulation,” she said.
Poultry, she said, shed heat through their wattles and combs but don’t sweat. And guinea pigs only sweat through the soles of their feet.
“I think the ones that do the best in the heat are the ducks, because they have their ponds to swim in,” she said.
Many of the rabbits in the small animal barn on Tuesday were snuggled up next to frozen water bottles quickly melting in the heat. Tracy said cool wet towels, misting animals with a spray bottle and feeding them frozen fruit also helped.
“You usually freeze a lot ahead of time,” she said. “We had to buy a freezer just for water bottles.”
Over in the largest barn, Kove Harwood of Echo was tending to his sheep named Savage. Frozen water bottles aren’t as much help to the larger animals, but spray bottles and baths work well, he said. Keeping their drinking water cool helps too.
“It gets hot, and so I’ll take it and dump it out and refill with cool water,” he said.
The sheep are shorn as closely as possible (otherwise it’s like “one of us wearing a wool sweater,” Harwood said) and their “tubes” that keep them clean after a bath can also be wetted down for some extra cooling effect.
Pigs are tricky to keep cool because they don’t sweat and are sensitive to sunlight.
“Pigs never tan, they just burn and peel,” Hannah Walker of Hermiston said.
She and Jacob McKillip were hanging out with their pigs Tuesday afternoon, near the western edge of the barn where shade tarps had been hung to protect the pigs from the setting sun in the evening. The pigs have water in their enclosures, but McKillip said he also frequently took his pig Troy to the wash racks for a bigger drink and a wash.
“Sometimes they need a big drink of water that the spigot doesn’t provide,” he said.
You have to slowly wash the pigs from their feet up, McKillip and Walker said, because pouring cold water straight on their backs will send them into shock.
Pigs start panting heavily when they get overheated, so Walker said if fairgoers notice that a pig is panting they can point it out to a nearby 4-H or FFA member. One of the secrets to taking care of animals at the fair is that everyone watches out for each others’ animals.
On the end of the barn where the steers are kept, someone had used a drip-hose and mesh to rig a mister system, and others were working on similar projects. A series of large fans were trained on the steers in the large, insulated barn, which was cooler than the outside. Kelly Nelson of Pendleton, who is showing a steer named Royal and a lamb named Alex this year, said getting her animals frequent fresh air and a drink at the wash racks helped.
“With my steer, every hour I take him out of the pen and get him some water and then cover him in water,” she said.
Instructors reminded the youth at a meeting Tuesday morning to make sure their animals stayed hydrated, but after spending a season caring for the animals already, they weren’t likely to forget.
“I’m a little worried (about the extreme heat coming up) but we’ve been really good about keeping them cool,” Nelson said.