Heat stress on the farm

Heat stress on the farm

For farmers, farmhands, and livestock, sitting in an air-conditioned room during a hot summer’s day is generally not an option. That’s why it’s important to learn the signs and treatment of heat stress, so everyone can stay cool and hydrated all summer long.

Heat illness in workers: Symptoms and treatment

Because farmers have to work outside, often around hot machinery, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) lists farmers as high risk for heat stress. Learn the symptoms of heat-related illnesses so you can recognize the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke in yourself or your workers.

1. Heat exhaustion

When someone is experiencing heat exhaustion, they may experience the following symptoms:

  • Heavy sweating
  • Weakness
  • Tiredness
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Muscle cramps
  • Confusion
  • Clammy skin
  • Headache

To treat heat exhaustion:

To treat heat exhaustion, first get the person into air-conditioning or shade and have them start drinking water. Don’t offer alcoholic or caffeinated beverages, even if the drinks are cold. Both can contribute to dehydration.

The National Safety Council also recommends removing outer layers of clothing and immersing the person in a pool or bath. If that’s not possible, apply ice bags, wet cloths, or cold packs to the neck, armpits, and groin to help reduce body temperature.

If the person does not start feeling better within one hour, loses consciousness, or is unable to drink, seek medical attention immediately. They may be nearing a heat stroke.

2. Heat stroke

The most dangerous and extreme heat illness is heat stroke, also known as a sun stroke. Heat strokes can kill or damage parts of the brain and other internal organs. Someone with heat stroke might experience:

  • Chills
  • Lack of sweating despite the heat
  • A throbbing headache
  • Hallucinations
  • Confusion
  • Slurred speech
  • Seizures
  • Red, hot, and dry skin
  • Nausea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Rapid, shallow breathing

In case of heat stroke:

  • Call 911.
  • Move the person to a cool place.
  • Don’t leave the person until medical services arrive.
  • Remove outer clothing.
  • Immerse in cool water if possible.
  • Apply ice bags, cool cloths, or cold packs to the neck, armpits, and groin.
  • Turn on any fans or air-conditioning available to speed cooling.

Prevent heat illness

NIOSH also encourages employers to take steps to reduce the risk of workplace heat stress.

  • Reschedule work for earlier or later in the day to avoid midday heat.
  • Provide cool, portable water in work area. Workers need 2 to 4 cups of water every hour.
  • Provide sunscreen and require it be worn.
  • Allow time for water and rest breaks.
  • Require protective clothing like hats and lightweight, light-colored clothing.
  • Increase the number of workers on tasks that involve being outside.
  • Closely supervise new employees until they are acclimatized to working conditions.
  • Train supervisors and workers on the prevention and signs and of heat illness.

For more information

If you hire farm hands during the hot summer months, do your best to protect them. We'll do our best to protect you. That's why Grinnell Mutual offers Farm-Guard®, a farm liability policy that helps protect you as an employer in case of an accident, injury, or claim of negligence. Contact an agent to find out more about Farm-Guard liability insurance.

Farm-Guard Liability Insurance Details

Signs of livestock heat stress

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. If your livestock decides to be stubborn, the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service says to watch for signs of dehydration, such as:

  • Lethargy
  • Change in behavior
  • Reduced feed intake
  • Tightening of the skin
  • Weight loss
  • Drying of mucous membranes and eyes
  • Panting/breathing with an open mouth
  • Trembling
  • Stumbling
  • Disorientation

Tips to avoid livestock heat stress

Put these tips into practice to keep your livestock comfortably cool and safe from the effects of heat stress.

Shade

“Made in the shade” applies to your livestock, too. Provide rest spots in buildings, under trees, and other shady places. Build your shade structures at least 8 feet tall to allow air to flow through. Orient the shade according to your goals: If you want the ground to remain cooler, erect the shade going from east to west, and if you want the ground to dry because of mud, erect it going from north to south.

Cool water

The key to keeping your livestock comfortable could be as simple as where you place your water tank. Shade the tank or place it under an already shaded area to keep the water as cool as possible.

Livestock Daily Water Needs

Learn the water needs of the livestock in your care.

Work animals at dawn and dusk

Movement and digestion generate internal heat. So, work livestock in cooler parts of the day if possible. Keep in mind that the hottest part of the day may not be when your livestock’s core body temperature peaks. For example, Iowa State University explains that cattle’s core body temperature peaks two hours after experiencing intense heat and it takes six hours for the heat load to dissipate.

Airflow

A little bit of air movement on a very hot day can work wonders. Use fans to make those still, miserable days more manageable for livestock.

Sprinklers

If you decide to use sprinklers for your livestock, keep in mind that no matter how refreshing it may feel to you during the heat, for some livestock it may be dangerous. Use sprinklers before your livestock endure extreme heat, not during, as animals already in heat stress may die from the thermal shock. Use them intermittently to avoid building up humidity and mud. Once you start using sprinklers for your livestock, you must keep using it until the dangerous heat is over and they can manage on their own.

Protection for your farm

When preventative measures and doing all the right things isn’t enough, we’ll keep our promise to protect your interests. Rely on the strength and stability of your local mutual company backed by Grinnell Mutual’s 100 years of experience protecting farming operations like yours. Learn about our farm property and liability coverage options. Contact your Grinnell Mutual Member agent today.

Contact an agent