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Record heat and climate change bring worries for livestock farmers

By Dean Vella

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The relentless, record-breaking heat of the summer of 2012 increased concerns about climate change, melting polar caps and rising sea levels. In particular, farmers struggled to deal with the soaring temperatures and drought conditions that took a toll on crops and livestock.

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The Midwest, which is home to much of the United States hog industry, bore the brunt of the brutal temperatures. Heat and humidity are especially dangerous to pigs, which don’t sweat but instead maintain their body temperature by wallowing in mud or water.

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Pork is big business. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the nation is the world’s third-largest producer and consumer of pork and pork products, as well as the world’s largest exporter. In May 2012, the United States exported 448 million pounds of pork, a nearly 10 percent increase over May 2011. The top three destinations for U.S. pork exports were Japan, Mexico and Canada.

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Several issues are of utmost concern to pig farmers during periods of extreme temperatures, including ensuring their pigs remain cool; transporting their livestock; and dealing with fluctuations in feed cost and availability.

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Keeping pigs cool

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During a heat wave, pigs breathe faster, drink more water and eat less in order to stay cool, according to a July 2012 article in the magazine National Hog Farmer.

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As the mercury rises, so does the importance of having an effective cooling system in barns and other structures that house livestock. Sprinklers and fans must be in top working condition as farmers must drench their swine with water several times a day and keep cooler air blowing on the animals.

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Farmers should also put fresh bedding down early in the morning while it is still cool. Fresh bedding helps keep pigs cool by protecting them from the hot ground.

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Transportation measures

Farmers must also cope with the special measures required when transporting pigs during periods of excessive heat. Load conditions such as stocking density must be adjusted, and trips must be scheduled at night or early in the morning to beat the heat.

Additionally, routes and itineraries must be planned strategically in order to avoid traffic delays and keep transport vehicles in motion to ensure evaporative cooling for the swine. Pigs should be sprinkled with water prior to loading and truck vents should be open. Drivers should avoid parking in areas where the airflow to the trailer is blocked by buildings or other vehicles.

Feed Supply and Prices

Throughout the nation’s Farm Belt and beyond, crops took a hammering from the heat and drought. A July 2012 report by the USDA noted that “this year’s lack of adequate rainfall over more than half of the United States has resulted in rapidly deteriorating crop and pasture condition.” That has pushed prices higher all along the supply chain, compounding the worries of farmers already dealing with concerns over protecting their livestock from the baking conditions.

Many industries faced challenges as a result of the extreme heat and drought of the summer of 2012. In particular, farmers struggled to protect their livestock and, ultimately, their livelihoods.

Dean Vella writes for University Alliance on supply chain course topics and sustainability training

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