Friday, August 20, 2010

Sue Weaver: The Long, Hot Summer

Another hot, red sun sets as viewed from our ridge

Ozark natives are quick to tell sweltering newcomers that summer’s hottest temperatures take place during the last two weeks in July and the first two in August—the rest of the summer is a piece of cake.

Not so. Summer--real, shirt-soaking, stifling Ozark summer--started in early June this year and still has us in its clutches.

Our first taste of what was to come occurred on Sunday, June 13, when the thermometer registered 100.5 F (with 93% humidity to make things nastier still). Mid-afternoon, the sheep were panting like freight trains. Even the goats were badly stressed, and it takes a lot to make a Boer pant. I was in the kitchen throwing together a bloat drench for my extremely heat-stressed ewe, Baatiste, when John came in to say that she was gone, leaving her not-quite five-week-old lamb alone in this world.

Baatiste just before shearing in April

We penned the lamb (Sam, the little white ram who was born on my birthday) in an airy pen with Cordelia, the tamest of the lambs from Ohio, and then moved the fan we’d trained on Baatiste up to cool her son and his friend.

Next morning, after Sam had time to work up an appetite, we began teach him to drink lamb milk replacer from a bottle (Bon Bon couldn’t make enough milk for her three kids as well as Sam). Fact: It’s almost impossible to bottle-train older, dam-raised lambs and kids. They recognize the real thing, and that’s all they want. Fortunately, John has a knack for cajoling bottle babies to nurse (we don’t call him The Lamb Whisperer for nothing) and after a few false starts, Sam complied.

Sam is thriving on his milk replacer diet.

But that was only the tip of the iceberg. It got hotter and hotter and hotter every day. One especially agonizing day two weeks ago, it was 112 F with a 126 heat index!

The animals, mercifully, adapted. So did we—after a fashion.

These days my day begins at 5:30 a.m. when John gets up for work. I feed the animals and milk my goat, then hurry the sheep and goats out to pasture because they have to be back in by noon to loll in the shade and pant. Then, at two-hour intervals throughout the day, I dump water containers (the liquid they hold is hot—not warm, hot—by then) and re-fill them with cool water. We have a lot of water containers. This does not make for a productive writing day.

And, we’re under drought conditions, with a county-wide burning ban and crispy grass in area pastures--wherever grass remains.

But we're not alone. The news is full of the Russian heat wave (the worst in recorded history) and wildfires. Approximately 24.7 million acres had already burned by August 10, and hundreds of fires are still raging out of control, mostly near Moscow and eastern Siberia but including the region where the Kostroma Moose Farm is located. Was it imperiled? I wanted to know. So I emailed Dr. Minaev at the email address listed on the moose farm Web site. Less than a day later, I had this reply:

“Dear Sue Weaver!

Thank you for good words!

The farm is ok though it has some problems with moose foraging because of an extremely dry summer. No fires around the farm occurred up to date. But I live in Moscow, work in the Institute of Ecology and Evolution and have more problems with fires in Bryansk and Rasan' regions. For instance, I have another place to worry about:
MODIS shows new fires in the heart of the Oksky biosphere natural reserve — near the Kalnoye Lake (54°44.9'N, 40°43.2E) A number of new fires also appeared this morning near the border of the reserve at 54°49.2N, 40°40.1E. I am afraid these are incendiary fires because they appeared this morning at the same time.

Alexander Minaev

So it could be worse. At least we’re not besieged by fire. But I’m ready for fall to arrive this year, and so are my animal friends. Yesterday’s high was 92 degrees; we all agreed it felt downright balmy.

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