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Hot Weather Challenges

Posted 7/25/2017 4:06pm by Kinley Coulter.

     Sweltering, humid weather descended on our farm with a vengeance this past few weeks.  July and August are always a challenge here at Coulter Farms.  Our pastures are a diverse mix of 40-50 species of grasses and legumes but they are nearly all ‘cool season’ herbs.  This means that they thrive in cool/wet weather (spring and fall) and desperately want to go dormant (sleep) in hot dry weather.  We do our best to keep the pastures awake and productive in the summer with carefully timed rotational grazing and fertility applications… but despite our best efforts… pasture quality declines precipitously in hot weather.  The Hereford beef animals, the Jersey dairy cows, the Katahdin sheep, and even the farmer and his family get kind of grumpy and tired when the long days get hot and dry, and the flies move in to pester us mercilessly.   Ragweed and thistles thrive and the rest of the pastures get crispy and brown.  Meat animals stop gaining weight and the milk cows’ milk volume drops off 20-40%… no one feels like eating in the heat.  

     Another challenge on the farm in scorching hot weather is refrigeration.  We have a 700 gallon chilled milk tank,  two reefer trucks, a walk-in cooler, a walk-in freezer and two chilled cheese aging ‘caves’ (actually converted semi reefer trailers).  One of those caves had me grumbling last week.  

     If we ever have a refrigeration failure… there is a 99% chance it will happen when we are sleeping.  There is no sound more depressing than that of our ‘high temperature alarm’ blaring at 2am at 130 dB.  

     The alarm sounds quite a bit like two chainsaws in locked in desperate, mortal combat…. jolting a poor, hapless farmer out of a comfortable but sticky bed.  Somehow, my boys sleep soundly enough to insist, the next morning, that they never heard the alarm.  So, dad stumbles out of the house into the humid pitch blackness, 130 long paces to the walk-in cooler and finds... 36 degrees… normal.  OK.  So he feels his way, in the dark, into the shop to reach the walk-in freezer… tripping over a floor jack and kicking over a pail full of gravel ("what in the world are those girls doing with a pail full of gravel in the middle of my shop floor?"…. he grumbles).  The walk-in freezer is humming contentedly at 5 below zero.  That’s the good news.  The bad news?  The cheese cave is,  obviously,  too warm.  Sure enough… 58 degrees when it should be 50 degrees.  

     This is a problem but not a crisis.  I spend a little time fiddling around with the controls, wishing I had brought a flashlight.  Squinting at the circuit breaker box to disable the alarm, I realize that my bleary eyes can’t read the writing on the breakers.  (Mental note to self:  next time, bring a flashlight AND glasses)  So, I’m reduced to blindly flipping breakers until the accursed alarm is finally, mercifully, silent.  Peace reigns again in the night!   I decide that the problem can wait until morning and stumble back to bed.  It could have been worse.  The next morning we found a defective temperature probe caused the problem.  People wonder why summer is not my favorite season…

     Oh well, the nights are getting longer and cooler… the animals and the farmer will survive August… September, and its cool nights, is coming. :