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Heat, lack of rain starting impact agriculture in Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox, Addington

Heat wave continues in KFL&A challenging farmers with livestock
Low water levels and heat affecting some farms in KFL&A

Heat and little rain is a bigger problem for farmers than keeping their lawns green.

For more than a week the temperatures have floated in the high 20 C and low 30 C range.

It’s keeping Greater Napanee dairy farmer Ken MacLean busy making sure his cows are cool and safe.

MacLean has 125 milking cows in his heard at Ripple Brook farm along with another 150 dry cows and young stock.

KFL&A Public Health issued a news release Monday stating that Environment Canada issued a heat warning for the rest of the week.

Not the news MacLean is hoping to hear.

“Cows can stand about three hot days and then the fourth day they really start to feel it.”

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Read more: Summer heat waves likely the new normal: Winnipeg climatologist

The heat, much like with humans, tends to make cows lose their appetites, says MacLean.

“As soon as cows drop in their feed consumption or water consumption, their milk does the same thing.”

MacLean says their are some tricks to help his cows during these high temperatures.

The barn roof at Ripple Brook farm is insulated keeping the barn cooler, he keeps the air flowing with several large ceiling fans and makes sure the cows have a steady supply of fresh water.

MacLean also adds molasses to the cows feed to keep them interested in eating.

“It’s kind of like giving chicken nuggets to a kid and say, ‘Here you go,’ and, ‘Oh, by the way, here’s some sweet and sour sauce’.”

The other challenge for the Napanee farmer is the lack of rainfall.

On June 24, the Cataraqui Region Conservation Authority declared a level 1 low water condition for the region.

Level 1 is the lowest grade of warning and reflects a potential water supply problem if current conditions continue.

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Holly Evans, the CRCA’s watershed planning coordinator, says hot temperatures and high winds have played a role in the low surface water levels.

“Over the last month and a half, I would say we’ve had quite a bit less rainfall throughout our entire region.”

Read more: Toronto cooling centres staying open as heat warning for southern Ontario continues

There have been some improvements recently though, says Evans.

For the first three weeks of June, only 59 millimetres of rain fell, which is about 40 per cent of the seasonal average for that time period.

Evans says from June 21 to July 5, an additional 48 millimetres fell bringing the rainfall level to 73 per cent of the seasonal average for June and early July.

That dry June has had an impact on crops like alfalfa that MacLean grows to feed his cattle in the winter.

MacLean, standing in one of his alfalfa fields that he’s about to harvest, indicates even though it’s been cut once, it’s shorter than usual and the leaves are yellow.

“The leaves have really turned yellow on this plant so it didn’t have the moisture early on in its regrowth stage, this alfalfa’s starting to flower so it’s not going to grow anymore.”

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He says aphids are also starting to eat the leaves, so if he doesn’t cut the crop now, it will have a lower nutritional level for his cows.

MacLean says if there is some decent rainfall, he may get a third cut of the alfalfa which is needed to get the cows through the winter.

“If we don’t have enough second cut and then let’s say it dries up even more and we don’t get a third cut, then we’ll need to purchase hay.”

Which means increased costs for the farm.

Evans may have some good news for MacLean. She says the longer-term look for precipitation and temperatures look better as the summer progresses.

“Throughout the summer and into the fall we think that rain is going to be around normal and the heat waves we’ve been experiencing are no longer going to be happening.”