Thursday, April 13, 2006

About Heat Lamps--Who Really Needs Them?

I'm looking at two news reports of fires involving heat lamps, and I'm heartsick over the loss of newborns because of something someone thought they needed when they really didn't. . . . On February 26th, a mare and her hours-old foal were killed. On March 6th, nine newborn kids (goats) died at Heifer International's Overlook Farm along with other occupants of the building. Neither fire had to happen.

The old-timers provided heat to a stall by packing the manure flat and covering it over with straw. The resulting decomposition of the manure generated heat. Every occupant was nice and toasty warm even if the stalls became somewhat rank smelling. Nowadays, it seems, every barn needs a heat lamp. Why? Is it because we have become too quick to personify our animals? We're the ones without natural temperature protection, not our animals. Mother Nature has done a fine job of fitting her creatures to normal weather conditions--weather that is normal for the place on the planet the animals were designed to populate (for example, a polar bear is not going to manage very well in Miami Beach). In most cases, if herd animals are permitted to be in a herd, they will instinctively gather for protection and they will make sure their young have adequate protection from both weather and predators.

When we interfere, with our dangerous heat lamps, we are setting the stage for disaster. Horses in a stall, where they are protected from wind DO NOT NEED EXTRA HEAT!!!!! If they have been clipped and the temperature in the barn is less than about 40 degrees, put a blanket on them. The worst thing that can happen is that they rip the blanket. The blanket won't radiate heat to combustibles (hay, straw, shavings) or tip over and provide direct contact. Blankets don't cause fires.

If there is one single cause of the increase in horse barn fires caused by heat lamps in recent years (by recent, I mean within the past 20 years or so) it's because of our insistence on keeping the January 1st birthday for horses that are exhibited, either in racing or shows. In the wild, horses are not born until the winter storms are past and the new grass has begun to grow. Foals are nursing from mares who are being nourished by fresh grasses, not processed grain and dry hay. Mares and foals derive strength and health from the spring and summer sun. It is my firm belief, after being in the politically vicious business of showing halter horses (weanlings, yearlings, 2 year olds and up) that we must get rid of the artificial January 1st birthday and allow our horses to be born when Mother Nature intended. Then, and only then, will we be able to get breeders to stop using heat lamps--think how many lives that will save. . . .

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