Aug. 7 2023 10:30 AM

Working in hot weather is inevitable for farmers but it’s important to protect yourself from heat stress.

Last week, Wisconsin experienced some pretty high temperatures that seem to be sticking around. I heard the phrase, “You should be used to the heat since you’re from the south,” multiple times. I can tell you from my frizzy hair and sticky clothes that their statement was not true. Luckily for me, I am not farming this summer, so I could escape into the cool air whenever I wanted. However, for a farmer, there are limited ways to avoid the heat. Even worse is that the highest temperatures of the day tend to be when farmers need to get the most work done.

Working on a dairy requires constant physical labor that can elevate the risk of heat stress or illness. Heat stress occurs when the body cannot get rid of excess heat. This can result in symptoms such as heat exhaustion, fainting, cramps, or rash. All of which can progress to heat stroke. Heat stroke is serious because it can cause death or permanent disability.

Melissa O’Rourke, a former extension specialist, said, “In general, farm workers can become overheated in one of two ways — either the heat from the environmental conditions in which they work, or by an individual generating internal heat by physical labor.”

The Iowa State University Extension article suggested multiple ways a farm owner can manage the work conditions of their employees and themselves to mitigate the occurrence of heat stress. One of the first suggestions is to schedule hot jobs during the cooler parts of the day if possible. It is important to drink plenty of fluids, wear light, loose fitting clothing, and designate rest periods in cool areas. Also, provide fans and ventilation to enclosed areas, such as milking parlors, to keep air moving. If a heat stroke case were to occur on the farm, you should immediately call 911 and move the person to a cool, shaded area and begin cooling them down with water.

As an industry we talk a lot about the effects of heat stress on cattle, but we tend to forget the toll the heat is taking on the farmers. The August heat is here to stay, so be sure to stay cool out there!

Madison Sifford

Madison Sifford is the 2023 Hoard’s Dairyman Editorial Intern. She is a student at Virginia Tech majoring in dairy science and communications. Madison grew up in North Carolina before moving with her parents and sisters to Goldvein, Va. Her family raises Holsteins on their Plessed-Rose Dairy, and they also have a small Hereford cow-calf operation.