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Milk production falls as temperature rises

July 23, 1998

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

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Cool CowsBy LAURA ERNDE / Staff Writer

Cows don't do much, but when it gets this hot they do even less, Washington County farmers said.

Milk production is down an average of 15 percent due to the heat wave. Cows that normally give 60 to 70 pounds of milk per day only give 50 to 60 pounds during a heat wave, said Boonsboro farmer Craig Leggett.

The reason is simple - cows don't eat as much when it gets hot.

"Just like you. You're hot and miserable and don't feel like eating," said Gerald Ditto, president of the Washington County Farm Bureau.

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The temperature in Hagerstown hit a high of 95 degrees Tuesday and Wednesday, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer.

Despite a steady breeze both days, it felt more like 105 degrees, Keefer said.

The heat prompted the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene to issue a health advisory for most of the state on Wednesday.

An Antietam Cable worker was overcome by the heat and sought help at the Maugansville Volunteer Fire Co. about 3 p.m., said Deputy Chief Bill Garrett.

Volunteers cooled down the 49-year-old man and took him to Washington County Hospital, Garrett said.

There was no sign the weather would cool down before Friday, said the National Weather Service.

To keep animals as comfortable as possible, farmers have been using fans and misting water, Ditto said.

It doesn't take long for a drop in milk production to affect the bottom line. If the heat wave continued, a typical 100-cow herd would lose $4,000 a month, Leggett said.

The heat wave is affecting other animals, including hogs, Ditto said.

Ditto hasn't lost any hogs at his Clear Spring area farm, he said, but he is concerned his sows will not be able to produce enough milk to feed the piglets, he said.

In addition to heat, farmers are dealing with a short dry spell. Washington County has received a scant 1.34 inches of rain so far this month, Keefer said.

"It's really starting to take its toll," Leggett said.

But most crops are holding their own, Ditto said.

A very wet spring has helped the early planted corn. The curl of the soybean leaves is normal, he said.

Orchardists weren't complaining about the heat.

"This is peach weather. This is when you should be picking peaches, when it's 95 degrees and the dust is flying," said Ben Clopper of Clopper Orchards in Smithsburg.

Keefer also said he likes the heat.

"I waited all winter for it and I'm going to enjoy it," Keefer said.

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