Before the rain

Although hot and humid weather is a seasonal rite of passage here in central Pennsylvania, such conditions always take me by surprise and I am affronted by them. I limit work out-of-doors during the afternoon hours when it is so very hot and I do away with morning and evening chores and feed and water the livestock once at mid-morning. Even then, when it is relatively cool, the humidity drains my energy. The animals take such conditions in stride and do not complain. Hank and Argus, Anatolian Shepherds, are happy to be invited to spend the day in the under-croft. They work hard to make themselves two-dimensional, thereby increasing the surface in direct contact with the cool, concrete, floor. They lay sleeping, slobbering, comfortably. Their twitching eyelids and paddling extremities give away their dreams. Folks ask us about the sheep, and whether they have difficulty in the heat. The same people will also ask about the very coldest part of winter. To both lines of questioning I provide assurance that the sheep are, always, just fine. As far as their current comfort level, the adults were sheared not long ago and lambs carry only three months of fleece. The behavior of the flock adapts to the heat as well. Whereas, in winter, the group will forage during the day and hunker down at night, in summer the group first stirs at sunset and will graze by the light of the moon or in total darkness. Once the heat begins to build, the lot will settle down to wait out the day in the ample coolness of the shade of Walnut trees. The cats become entirely nocturnal and spend their days holed up in the barn. The only animals which seem unaffected by the weather are the layers. Although pastured meat birds are much influenced by the heat (which is why we have them processed and in the freezers by the time summer heats up), our free-range layers can be counted upon to go about their usual business. That being said, it is the winter, and the very cold feet it brings with it, which they disdain. And so it was that the farm was quiet today so I took the camera to a farm I know along the river. As I pulled alongside the large barn and stepped out of the truck I was met with a wave of heat and humidity which wafted from under the barn itself. The folks that own this place store hay and straw in the cavernous mow above and house beef cattle and replacement heifers below. Although the under-croft is open and large fans work incessantly to bring in fresh air, large numbers of ruminant animals produce lots of heat (which is why, incidentally, dairy barns are rarely heated). The animals were well fed and watered but seemed restless. I watched as they jockeyed for position in front of the many fans which were spread evenly around the spacious pad. I always enjoy walking around a barn, especially a working barn, and this one didn’t disappoint. The sheds and out buildings were crammed with equipment. The sweet smell of fermented forage rose from the bunks and the automatic waterer droned on, harmonizing pleasantly with the soft groans and footfalls made by the animals as they moved about. As I walked I came upon this school bus which serves as a storage shed. The bruised metal and shattered windows stood in contrast to the brilliant green of the maturing corn crop and rapidly gathering storm clouds. I like strolling past machinery, crops, and livestock, looking at each knowingly, and thinking about how it is that the first two are used, along with much dedication and hard labor, to produce the third.


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