Dolly and my daughter, Kyla
You know it is hot when you look out on your porch at 6:00 p.m. and see that the temperature is 104 degrees. Temperatures that high that late in the day are becoming the new normal this August. Unfortunately, it it just the beginning of the hottest month of the year.
Most people know the warning signs for heat exhaustion or stroke in people. Symptoms include excessive sweating, lightheadedness, nausea, and a bad headache. If you ignore those warning signs, then you can quickly suffer a heat stroke. Symptoms of a heat stroke are disorientation, rapid pulse, the absence of sweating, and/or difficulty breathing. Staying hydrated is one of the best ways to combat the effects of such extreme heat.
Animals can also suffer heat exhaustion or stroke. In fact despite all the water and shade we offer our livestock, one of our older horses, Dolly, gave us quite a scare last Saturday. Most of my immediate family was not at the ranch. We had gone to a home school convention and family conference. My two youngest children were staying with their grandparents, the owners of Cross Creek Cattle Company. As they looked across the pasture, Dolly laying on her side caught their attention.
Horses will sometimes lay down and sun. They will also roll in dirt. However, horses don’t usually lay down for an extended period of time. If they do, it means that something is wrong. A down horse is not good. My dad walked out to inspect her. Typically when nothing is wrong with the horse, it will get up if it hears you approaching. Not Dolly. She just laid there. This was alarming.
My dad enlisted the help of his wife and together they began trying to get Dolly up. My dad was literally rocking her body, but she continued to lay there. She was lethargic. They wanted to try and cool her off with water, but they had to go home to get the supplies they needed. On their way back, they immediately noticed that Dolly had gotten herself up.
She was staggering like a drunken mare to the barn. My dad put a halter on her and led her to a shade tree. He began spraying her down with cool well water. I have heard of horses going in to shock by cooling them down too quickly. Start spraying water at the hooves and work your way up the legs. Then douse their body and neck.
Dolly stayed in her stall the rest of the day and night with a fan on her. She has major anxiety when she is separated from the other horses so they stalled all the horse earlier than usual that evening. The next morning she was back to her normal self; however, I noticed that she stayed in the shade the entire day unlike the other horses who would periodically graze in the open pasture.
We are lucky that Dolly rebounded so well from her bout with heat exhaustion. It reminds us that despite the safeguards you provide, the safety and health of your livestock is not guaranteed. Just like infants, the elderly, athletes, and people who physically exert themselves outside are the most susceptible to suffering from a heat-related illness, young and old horses are the most susceptible. In addition, ones that are physically exerting themselves are more likely to show symptoms of heat exhaustion. If you want to read more on the subject, “Heat Stress in Cattle–Know the Warning Signs!” by Kevin Gould, is a good article.
As the high temperatures continue and possibly grow worse this month, keep your personal safety and the safety of your livestock in mind. Stay hydrated and stay in the shade as much as possible. When you have to physically exert yourself, do it in the early morning or late evening if at all possible. Twelve individuals have died in Dallas already this summer; this is not a laughing matter.