Nebraska farmers work to keep livestock healthy during hot weather

BEATRICE, Neb. - When summer brings extreme temperatures to the Cornhusker state, a $20-billion industry is thrown a new set of challenges.

Farmers across Nebraska have to adapt, and find ways to keep their livestock cool and comfortable. Brian Zimmerman is the owner and manager of Zimmerman Hog Farms in Beatrice. Because of their genetic makeup, pigs cannot perspire, making it difficult for them to stay cool.

"We have to do things kind of different in order to help keep them cool," Zimmerman said. "We'll put coolers on them, we'll put sprayers on them. One of the best things we can do is push air on top of those pigs, and also pull hot air out to keep it moving."

When caring for any sort of livestock during hot weather, the goal isn't just to keep them alive. In order to stay operational, it’s of utmost importance that farmers keep them comfortable.

"In our business, if pigs aren't comfortable, they're not going to grow, they won't perform," Zimmerman said. "That makes it hard for us to make money, and we don't stay in business if we don't do our job of keeping them comfortable."

When it comes to keeping his hogs cool, it depends on the size and age of the animal to determine the best method. While young ones are able to handle higher temperatures, caution must be exercised with mature hogs.

"As they grow and get bigger, we want to keep them cooler," Zimmerman said. "We like to see them at about 65 degrees, and they can eat, they can do whatever they need to do, as long as we keep them at that temperature."

A sow is the most valuable hog on the market. 

"What those sows do, is there body temperature goes up before they start to struggle," Zimmerman said. "When that happens, we have to be johnny-on-the spot."

If a farmer doesn't see the signs of a distressed sow, it can spell disaster.

"We're in it to make a living. This is a job to us," Zimmerman said. "We have to treat these animals with respect and care, so they have everything they need, otherwise, we run into trouble as well."

As of June 22, southeast Nebraska has seen three days of temperatures exceeding 100 degrees, and 10 with a high of at least 90. Zimmerman has used this early spell of hot days to prepare for what could be a very hot summer.

"Figure out what you have to change, figure out what you have to do different," Zimmerman said. "We figured out, a long time ago, that if it's out of your control, it's out of your control. We don't worry about it, we take every day as it comes, we'll set up new sprinkler systems, and do everything we can to make sure they stay comfortable."