Adequate rainfall from scattered thunderstorms is keeping farm crops and neighborhood gardens healthy while most livestock and other animals are finding plenty of ponds and shade, according to Kim Frady, Bradley County agricultural extension agent.
“Right now we’re OK on moisture and that has helped ... especially with the beef cattle,” Frady said. “Most everyone (farmers) has plenty of shade and ponds ... and the cattle know where to find it.”
Area farmers have endured hotter temperatures, especially in the later “dog days” of summer; however, this year’s seasonal heat is coming early. In spite of the unexpected temps, sporadic thunderstorm activity has been sufficient to keep the soil moist and the farm animals happy. If heat-induced storms should dry up for an extended time, then problems could develop, Frady said.
Locally, farm animals most susceptible to extreme heat are dairy cows and poultry. When thermometers spike, dairy cows produce less milk. Frady pointed out this is why dairymen often use misters with fans to keep their cattle cooler.
Chicken farmers face a more difficult task. When outside temperatures exceed 90 degrees, chicken houses get extremely hot, especially older ones, the agent explained. Newer poultry houses often use a modern technology called “cool cells,” which is a method to mix air and water to circulate cooler air throughout the houses.
“This cool cell technology really lowers the temperatures,” Frady said. “This has been a blessing for the chicken growers.”
Chicken farming in Bradley County has grown over the past decade so growers are constantly on the lookout for technology that can better protect their investment.
“In the last 10 to 12 years, we’ve had a lot of new chicken houses built in Bradley County,” he said. Some are really big.
Frady estimated an average-sized chicken house is about 60 feet wide and 400 to 450 feet long (mostly for roasters and broilers), depending on the type of chicken being raised. Some are even bigger, such as houses for pullets (young hens). Pullet houses can sometimes hold as many as 20,000 to 22,000 hens, he said.
These numbers point to the importance of cooler temperatures, whether they are man-made using “cool cell” technology or nature-made. Frady said excessive summer heat is one of the biggest problems local poultry growers face.
Although temperatures are slowly baking farm soil, area crops are still getting sufficient water, but an extended drought could change this in a hurry.
“Right now, we’re doing OK with the crops overall,” Frady said. “If things do start getting dry, especially with this heat, then we’ll start seeing some stress. But right now, things look real good.”
In some cases, storms have brought more than enough water and have caused some delays such as with wheat crops. Other crops like fruit, vegetables, soybean and corn are healthy, he said.
“Overall, our farmers are still doing just fine ... even with this heat,” he said.
Earl Couch, an avid gardener who has lived in Charleston some 37 years, reports his produce is thriving. He credits the use of mulch, a farming method he began using three years ago to help keep the soil moist. He also rotates his crops to lessen strain on the soil. He used to plow an acre, but these days his plot is about 40 feet by 60 feet. Even with a smaller garden, he still grows enough for three families. He grows plenty of tomatoes and potatoes, and his fruit crops include strawberries, blackberries and blueberries. He also harvests apples and peaches.
Couch agreed with most other Bradley Countians about the early heat. It’s hot, but so far scattered afternoon storms are keeping the crops watered.
The National Weather Service Office in Morristown forecasts the heat wave to continue for the foreseeable future. David Gaffin, NWS forecaster, said temperatures are expected to drop slightly by Friday when thunderstorms should return to southeast Tennessee. Temperatures are expected to rise well above 90 again by early next week.
“We’re seeing no sign of a significant break in this heat any time soon,” said Brian Smith, morning and noon meteorologist for WDEF News in Chattanooga.