Wednesday, July 20, 2016

The best of times

The day began with paint blistering shouted curses. Good NAVY swearing, too, none of this amateur crap.

I'd let my dog in the house last evening during the thunderstorm because she's convinced herself that she's terrified of thunder. She cowered near my bed until the storm passed, then decided she was all happy-goofy and hungry. I let her out, fed her, and eventually went to bed.

Somehow I missed the dog bone she left by my bed. Well, I missed it last night. But I did not miss it this morning. Which led directly to the paint blistering. Stepping on a dog bone with bare feet smarts. I was completely uninjured, and in truth it didn't hurt all that much, but I was pleased with the swearing. It was a professional job and set the stage for a most excellent day.


After I finished checking cows I headed on in to work.

Not sure if I ever mentioned it in this space, but last winter I took a part-time job at the local food store. Three mornings a week I unload the frozen food from the truck and put it away. Two to three tons of frozen stuff -- ice cream, veggies, pizzas, etc. Takes 2-3 hours. I took the job to keep myself off my backside during the winter, but I've continued on through spring and summer and plan to keep it up.

It's crap pay but comes with a 10 percent employee discount, so it's really not crap at all. Most importantly, though, I really like the work. Lots of lifting and carrying and bending and stretching, and most of it the kind of stuff I don't really get in my daily ranch work. So it's kind of like having a membership at the gym and getting paid to work out. Which the Scotsman in me likes a lot. My clock-in time is "sometime around 10." Plus or minus about an hour. I clock out when the food has been put where it goes in the display freezers and the excess has been neatly stowed in the walk-in freezer in the back. I like most of the people I work with, and know and like most of the customers. So pretty much a win-win.

So there I was this morning, putting away the Bomb Pops. A little old lady tugged on my sleeve and asked if I could help her find the ice cream sandwiches that were on special. She explained that she couldn't see well enough to tell which were which. So I helped her find the ones on special and told her the price.

"I'll take one," she said.

"Do you like the vanilla or the chocolate cookie?", I asked.

The years dropped away from her face and she looked at me with a big grin and eight year-old eyes.



I hadn't been home but a few minutes when I got a phone call. It was the Sheriff's Department calling to tell me I had some cows out. As usual with this department, the dispatcher was rude and had a bad attitude. Couldn't even give me a location. "Somebody said they're yours." A shoe salesman, following in the, er, footsteps of her boss the elected shoe salesman.

Pugoj aside, I needed to see if I had any cattle out, so I set off.

And I did have a couple of cows and several calves out. Once I found them. Would have been nice to know the location to start with, but it would be nice to have competent elected shoe salesmen, too. Butt I digress.

It was the work of a few minutes to return the miscreants to the right side of the fence. I decided to move them to the far side of the unit, a trek of 3-4 miles. So I zipped on over to the home place and saddled up the JD Gator. I was in a hurry, so I didn't check the fuel level. Hell, I just checked it last week, and there was plenty then. I think. No, I'm sure. Pretty sure.

Well, you know what happened. But not until I had the cows moved and I was on my way back!

So there I was, about six miles from the home place. It was hot as hell. I was rather cross with myself for putting myself in such a position. All in all, perfect conditions for a hike.

This was one of the really good, really excellent days. My routine hurts weren't hurting much and I felt great, full of energy and raring to go.

So I hiked back to the home place. I really pushed it, too, and turned 12-minute miles. Felt great! Once I got out on the county road, though, everybody and their brother wanted to give me a ride. I thought one guy was going to pull a gun on me, so strongly was he insisting that it was far, far too hot out for anyone to be walking.

I do appreciate folks asking, that's nice and neighborly. But the anti-heat stroke crusader was a bit much. I know I'm old and fat but c'mon, if I can make 5 mph and carry on a conversation without panting and getting short of breath it's pretty clear that I don't need rescuing. I think that fellow was one of the millions of 'merkins who long ago turned over his thinking to the tee-vee.

But I digress. I made it to the home place, hooked up the trailer, grabbed a can of gas, and soon returned the Gator in style.


And then my phone rang again. This time it was Ike, from the Torrington Telegram. He was working on a story about the heat wave and how summer heat impacts local farmers and ranchers. From me specifically he had questions about heat stress in cattle.

I was able to tell him that while summer heat causes some stress for cattle in our area, it only rarely causes heat illness. There are a number of reasons for this, and it's kind of interesting.

Firstly, cattle are mammals and endotherms, just as people are. At the fundamental physiologic level, cattle deal with heat the same way people deal with heat, by sweating, panting, reducing physical exertion, drinking water, and taking advantage of shade and breeze.

Like people, cattle have an almond-sized hypothalamus in their brain which controls body heat. When the body needs to dump heat, the hypothalamus secretes neurotransmitters which increase blood flow to the peripheral blood vessels close to the skin and to the blood vessels of the respiratory system. It causes the respiration rate to increase, and causes the body to begin to sweat.

The increased blood flow carries body heat away from the core and to the skin, where some of the heat is radiated away. This is pretty ineffective when the air temperature is close to body temperature though, and that's where evaporative cooling comes in.

Sweat is mostly water, and when sweat evaporates it carries away a tremendous amount of heat. Because water has a very high latent heat, it takes a great deal of energy to change it from liquid phase to gas (vapor) phase. That energy input comes from body heat, and as the sweat vaporizes it carries that heat away.

So how much heat does it carry away? Well, if I remember my chemistry and physiology correctly, a gram of water evaporating will cool a kilogram of water by about a half of a degree centigrade, or almost one degree Fahrenheit. A kilogram of water is one liter, and a gram is one cc, or one one-thousandth of a liter. A person has a blood volume of 5-6 liters, and normal cardiac output is about 5 liters per minute. Under heat stress or exercise stress, a person sweats about 1-5 cc's per minute. If you do the math, your body can shed as much as 2.5 degrees F per minute through the evaporative cooling of perspiration alone. In addition to this, warm blood flowing through the lungs vaporizes a lot of water, which leaves the body with every exhalation (remember the mirror fogging test).

All of that is under ideal conditions, of course. If the heat is too high, and particularly if ambient humidity is very high, evaporative cooling doesn't work so well.

So anyway, heat transfer scales very nicely between humans and cows, and each is about as efficient in dumping heat as the other. Then take into consideration the low humidity we enjoy around here, and the fact that temperatures seldom exceed 105 F -- and then only for a few hours at a time -- and you'll see that heat illness is seldom a concern in cattle in this part of the world.

At the end of the day, you want to pay close attention to your cattle when it gets hot, make sure they have plenty of fresh water
and high quality forage available,
and avoid actively stressing or exercising them in the heat.
But generally, it's not much of a concern around here.

If you raise cattle in a hotter, more humid clime, you might have to come up with some clever interventions, such as artificial shade and sprinklers. But you might not, too, as cattle are ubiquitous around the globe and, once acclimatized to local conditions, seldom suffer from heat illness.

Almost sounds like I know what I'm talking about, huh?


I finally called it a day, went home, kicked back in the recliner and didn't turn on the tee-vee. Because I have no tee-vee. Yay!

No, I started writing this post. After a while I had a thought. About yesterday's post and the Summer of '69.


My life has been full and round and sweet and delightful. I can be a champion complainer, though, and that's really kind of shameful.

But it is what it is, and sometimes I recognize my great good fortune and my greater folly.


  1. I am staying indoors by the AC today, it is gonna be 95, with a heat index of 110. An excellent day for a third shifter to sleep in a bed that has the window AC aimed at it!

    1. Hot here too, but it's a dry heat, and that really does make a difference!

  2. I vividly remember the launch, and the landing. Back when America could still do things that impressed the World.

    1. Those were heady days for Americans. And there were a lot more Americans around back then.

  3. The Emperor Napoléon once said that if his Guard wasn't complaining about something, it made him nervous. (He nicknamed his grenadiers of the Old Guard les grognards, "the grumblers."

    The progeny once gave me a t-shirt and coffee cup both of which proudly stated, "If I'm not bitching, check my pulse."

    Complaining? Own it, embrace it, indicates that one is still in the fight.

    1. Reminds me of a sea story about junior enlisted washing ambulances and having an interesting conversation with an undercover Admiral. He had some great words along those same lines.

  4. Hi PrairieAdventure:

    Just found your blog and read this post, but I bookmarked it and will return to catch up.

    Paul L. Quandt

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I may have to tell my story about driving a Starlifter once upon a time...