Weather Forecast


Area farmers aided by fire department

JUSTINE WETTSCHRECK/DAILY GLOBE Steers at the Pick Farm in Avoca were dying from heat exhaustion Monday and Tuesday until the Picks requested help from Avoca Fire and Rescue to water down the cattle. Working in shifts for two days, firefighters went through approximately 20,000 gallons of water to help the Picks keep the cattle cooled down.

AVOCA -- The heat wave that still has much of the country in its grip seems to have broken in southwest Minnesota, leaving some devastation behind at area farms and feedlots.

At the Pick Farm in rural Avoca, brothers Andy and Adam Pick suffered heavy cattle losses. Their animals started showing seri-ous distress Monday afternoon, despite the brothers' attempts to cool them down.

"All we could do was try to keep them wet," Andy said.

"We even tried putting a garden hose in some of their mouths," Adam added. "We saved a couple of them that way."

The water resources the Picks have wasn't enough. Cattle were falling over dead.

"It was all fat cattle, all ready to go to market," Andy explained. "The smaller ones were actually doing better."

Cattle don't sweat like people do, the Picks said. They pant at the mouth, not unlike dogs, but because their lungs are so big, it takes a lot of effort and energy to maintain that heavy panting. That effort quickly overheats the animals, and they begin to show signs of distress.

"Their sides heave in and out, their tongues hang out, they start to foam at the mouth," Adam stated. "That panting causes them to get tires so much faster."

A call to the vet produced the advice they were expecting -- cool the large steers down with water as much as possible. The vet suggested asking for help from the local fire department. On Tuesday, the brothers decided to call a friend who is a long-time mem-ber of Avoca Fire and Rescue, Bob Wahl, who immediately called an officer of the department and got permission to get the fire-fighters involved.

Several firefighters headed out to the Pick Farm as soon as possible -- two of them leaving their place of employment to do so.

"You sure have to appreciate Larry Smith of Avoca Spray allowing a couple of his guys to leave to go help a neighbor," Avoca fire-fighter Paul Parenteau stated. Parenteau, who is retired, was called in to operate the pumper while the others sprayed cattle.

Doctor Connie McNab of the Slayton Veterinary Medical Center said she has heard about quite a few cattle deaths in the area, a few of which took place Sunday. The bulk of the deaths took place Monday and into Tuesday.

"I've been in this area since 1996 and have not seen anything like this, as far as heat-related deaths," McNab said. "A technician in our office has been here for over 30 years and has not seen anything like this."

The only recourse for any of the cattle producers was to provide shade, air and moisture, she explained.

"(The farmers) had to keep water on them -- really soaking them down," she added.

Tuesday evening, other Avoca firefighters spelled the members who had been there that afternoon. They were back Wednesday evening to pump more water over the hot cattle. All together, about 20,000 gallons of water were transported from town to the Pick farm and sprayed on the animals, with the Picks taking care of fuel expenses.

"We're here to help the community," said Avoca Fire Chief Tom Nelson. "We can't do everything for everybody, but we are here to help. That's what we're all about."

Approximately six of the department's members took shifts filling the pumper truck and spraying water over the cattle, some-thing for which the Picks are very grateful.

"Without their help, we'd have a lot more dead steers," Andy stated.

"They saved a lot," Adam added.

The Avoca Fire and Rescue team came out of the experience with a possibility of some new members.

"After seeing what they did and how they helped out a community member, this is something I want to be part of," Adam stated.

Although the Picks didn't want to give an exact number, the steers they lost will have an impact. Valued at approximately $1,400 each, the damage is significant. The meat from the steers that died of heat exposure cannot be used, according to Adam, because the animals start bleeding internally as their large bodies are exhausted.

Now, all the Picks can do is wait for a rendering truck to come collect the corpses, but even that is a problem.

"So many cattle died all over," Andy explained. "The rendering truck is already a day behind, then the rendering plant broke down for a bit."

Most of the steers that died were scheduled to be delivered to a contracted cattle barn in the next several weeks, so the Picks called to explain what had happened.

"They said we weren't the only ones going through this," Andy said.

Insurance doesn't cover cattle loss due to heat, the Picks said. It does, ironically, cover loss due to blizzard conditions.

"There hasn't been heat like this around here since 1935," Andy stated.

McNab said she hasn't heard of animals other than cattle dying, although there was a llama that went down.

"I think it's going to make it," she said.

According to a recent news release from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Service Agency, livestock producers who incur livestock losses due to recent extreme temperatures may be eligible for the USDA FSA Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP) if documentation of the loss can be provided. Producers can learn more about LIP by visiting or contacting their local FSA county office.