Ya gotta love your ducks!

It’s been relentlessly hot on the farm for well over a week, with highs in the upper 80s and lower 90s. That’s perfect weather for jumping into the lake, but on the farm the work carries on without the lakeside reprieve. And while we can duck into the AC of Farmstead to cool off, the animals are still outside and need extra care to make it through the sweltering weather.

While I’m feeling rivers running down my back and beads forming on my face as I lug 50-pound bags of feed for morning chores, the pigs are baking because they can only sweat off the tip of their nose. That’s not enough to cool off a pig! So, we run sprinklers to create muddy spots called “wallers” for them to roll in and cool off. They love sinking into the mud like piggy hippos, rolling and grunting.

I make certain to have the duck pen include access to shade from trees, where they can rest and pant like dogs in the cooler grass, along with a filled kiddie pool of fresh water for them to splash and wet their feathers. When they hear the water splash into the pool, they flap and quack in excitement. Fresh water never grows old to a duck.

Kara has large drum fans set up in the barns. Blue, the horse, hogs one of them all to herself, rotating her dark chocolate and white body in front of it to cool off her sweat and chase away the flies. The sheep love theirs as well, hiding in the barn from the roasting sun, only grazing in the morning and evenings when temperatures are not so oppressive. While their wooly coats are still short from spring’s shearing, still they pant and look pathetic, wishing it were cooler.

The turkeys dig dust holes in the shade of the spruce trees, rolling in the cool dirt. Their summer house is built on a trailer, so we can move it to fresh pasture, and the turkey hens have decided that underneath in the tall grass is the best place to lay their eggs and escape the sunshine. I have one of those handy “grip and grab” arm extenders to reach the eggs for collecting, which keeps the hissing cobra-like turkey mommas from biting my hands. They are serious about protecting their favorite spot!

Water and shade. I haul two to three times as much water on these hot days to keep all the birds stocked. Kara has set up big tankers around the farm that she can fill with the hose, so it’s easier to keep stock tanks and water troughs replenished. 

Even in the aquaponics greenhouse it’s a serious challenge. The system is designed to keep the water warm, but when the air rises to 110 degrees inside and you want the water to be about 78, it becomes a challenge to try to keep things cool enough for the fish and plants. Water exchanges become a critical part of the day, or the fish will cook and the plants will suffer root diseases. We keep the fans running all night to help vent out the heat, but it’s still a challenge. 

No less is it a challenge on us as we try to work in the oven-like environment. We mostly try to work in the morning and the evening, but sometime the urgency of the situation means we have to tough out the heat to keep the animals alive.

I cannot imagine how historic homesteaders held their farms together in the summertime without showers . . . or gelato. I am just not built for this heat, which leaves me feeling weak and exhausted. The rains are welcome reprieves, bringing clouds and at least temporary reductions in temperature (especially since we were able to make first crop hay before it started to pour), but I keep hoping for a cold front and a return to more moderate Northwoods weather.

Remember to drink plenty of liquids, spend time in the shade, and rest as needed. Heat stress can easily sneak up on us, leaving us ill or sunburnt. Maybe rolling in mud or dust isn’t for you but splashing in a pool or the lake could help. Whatever works best for you, take care of yourself and your animals through the challenge of this hot weather, and we’ll see you down on the farm sometime.

Laura Berlage is a co-owner of North Star Homestead Farms, LLC and Farmstead Creamery & Café. 715.462.3453

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