Officials ready for heat after pig deaths

Mel Keely, a Umatilla County Fair volunteer, shows the valves pigs drink from in their pens at the fairgrounds. <BR><I>Staff photo by Dean Brickey</I>

Reacting to the deaths of four market hogs during the recent heat wave, Umatilla County Fair officials are glad they have pig-cooling apparatus in place.

Fair Manager Dave Stuvland said Wednesday five pigs had died. Marie Linnell, chairman of the fair's Livestock Committee, said four died because of heat and one from an accident.

The heat-related deaths occurred at two owners' homes, but fair officials declined to release the owners' names.

Linnell said four deaths among about 200 pigs being raised by 157 youth shows a low percentage.

Jill Perrine of Weston, the fair director in charge of livestock, said the deaths were accidental, involving circumstances that couldn't be forseen.

"In both cases, the pigs were rooting with their noses and broke through doors," Perrine said.

Once on the other side, they couldn't get back to water.

Perrine also indicated the owners of the dead pigs were somewhat inexperienced.

"There's a lot more FFA and 4-H members that do not have a farm background," she said. "They don't have the same experience as a ranch-raised kid has."

Linnell said animals, like people, don't handle the heat well, and pigs especially are vulnerable.

"Any animal is going to stress during this heat wave," she said. "(Pigs) like to wallow in the mud to keep cool."

Shade, fresh water, a mud wallow, fans and water misters are among the things people use to prevent pig problem.

Linnell said the Umatilla County Fair does a lot to make sure the pigs are cool. The swine shed at the fairgrounds has a pig drinking fountain in each pen. Volunteers also have been replacing nozzles in the shed's water misting system, making sure it's ready for the pigs.

"If they're going to continue to gain weight, they've got to be comfortable," Linnell said.

Mel Keely, a 14-year fair volunteer from Hermiston, installed the drinking water and misting systems. The fountains look like the spout on a miniature pitcher pump. They have a spring-loaded valve in the middle the pigs push down with their upper teeth to take a drink.

"The pigs have cold running water all day long, once the fair starts," Keely said. "Once they start that heavy panting, the best way to cool them down is with a wet towel."

Once the handler has cooled the animal enough to get it on its feet, the pigs can be taken to one of several concrete cubicles used as wash racks.

Keely will be at the hog barn all next week.

"I will come through three to four times a day and check the animals," he said. "If it gets hot enough, I'll turn the misters on."

Swine Superintendent Linda Miller of Milton-Freewater stays in an RV nearby and also monitors the heat. She's thankful to have Keely and other dedicated volunteers to call on for help.

Miller said only one pig has died from heat at the fair in the 30 years she's been involved. None has died in the past four or five years since Keely installed the misters.

"Before that, we had nothing to keep them cool but just wet towels and stuff." Keely said.

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