Heat can harm animals at fair

Precautions: Exhibitors give their prize creatures special treatment.

August 01, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Pigs aren't big sweaters.

They perspire slightly from the tops of their noses, but that's their only built-in means of keeping cool, a porcine curiosity that has some Howard County Fair exhibitors worried.

"Last year, all the 4-Hers had to bring in window fans so the pigs didn't overheat and die," said 12-year-old Beth Coles, who is showing four pigs and a lamb at this year's fair, opening Saturday. "We might have to do that again if it gets too hot."

And it probably will. Temperatures this summer, like last, have steadily registered in the 90s, with the heat index driving them up over 100 -- a danger zone for animals, which at the fair includes cattle, pigs, rabbits, horses, sheep and goats.

"When the temperature is 90 and above, rabbits die," said Wendy Feaga, a veterinarian who is a member of the fair's rabbit-judging team.

Last year, when the heat was so bad it cut fair attendance by 20,000 people, Feaga dunked rabbits in water buckets to cool them. She also took a particularly well-feathered chicken for a swim in the duck pond after several others died from heat.

(There won't be any poultry problems this year: The birds are banned to prevent the spread of avian influenza.)

"The main thing right now is trying to get the animals transported with the least amount of stress possible," said Martin Hamilton, the Howard County 4-H educator in charge of livestock. "Once they're at the fair, they're probably better off than at home because we have fans."

His office is asking exhibitors to provide plenty of fresh water daily and to transport their animals, beginning tomorrow, either very early or very late when it is cooler and the stress is less likely to cause overheating.

Beth, who has two pigs with a certain gene that makes them more likely to stress out, isn't taking any chances.

"My pigs have always been very pampered," she said.

They are consistently under cover of shade, and Beth only lets them walk -- not run -- in high heat. She is bringing buckets of water to the fair to pour over them, too, along with the animal crackers she dishes out as treats.

Eight-year-old Stephanie Clark has a novel way of keeping her rabbit, Clover Blossom, cool.

"I take a regular water bottle, put water in it and put it in the freezer overnight," she said. "Then I give it to my bunny so she stays cold."

She learned the trick in 4-H, and Stephanie's mom, Laural Clark, says the rabbits (the family has 15) love it. "They snuggle up beside it," she said.

The Clarks also put ice cubes in the water bottles to lower the rabbits' body temperatures, which wasn't enough to chill long-haired rabbits last year. They were dismissed from competition.

The weather will likely have an impact on the farm crops displays, as well.

"Whenever I see different farmers in the community, I ask them to please help and bring something to show," said Charles M. Coles Jr., the farm crops department superintendent and Beth's dad. "But they're saying, `I don't have anything quality to bring.'"

But there will still be plenty to see. This year's fair highlights include the return of the pig-racing track, which has been gone for the past five or six years, and the addition of an Activity Building, which will feature health screenings. There also will be magicians, musicians and a dozen horse shows.

The Home Arts Building is chock full of good stuff including an apple pie contest and a baked goods and candy department, along with woodworking displays and a needlework section.

Coles' Farm Crops Building will feature corn, hay and small-grain entries along with eggs and sunflowers. The midway ride area has been furnished by Deggeller Attractions, the same company that provides the rides at the Maryland State Fair, and includes a Ferris wheel and rocket ride.

The annual farm queen contest returns at 3 p.m. Sunday, and the petting farm will be available daily.

The 57th annual Howard County Fair will run Saturday through Aug. 10 at 2210 Fairground Road in West Friendship. Admission is $4 for those age 10 and older, $2 for senior citizens and free for kids younger than 10. For a complete schedule, log on to www.howardcountyfair.com. Information: 410-442-1022.

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