IT'S THE PITTS -- I'M NO HOTTIE!

by: Lee Pitts

The coldest I've ever been in my life was in Aberdeen, South Dakota, when the wind chill was minus 35 degrees. I can't tell you what it felt like because I'd lost all feeling once we got into negative numbers. But I still preferred that to hot weather because you can always put on more clothes, but when it gets unbearably hot there's only so much you can take off before breaking indecent exposure statutes.

I'm touched that there have been so many good articles written this summer about how to care for the cows when it gets hot. But what about the cowboys?

One article I read said that the comfort zone for cattle was between 41 and 77 degrees. This, of course, compares favorably with my personal comfort zone which ranges between 68 and 69 degrees. I admit I have no heat resistance, and you can call me a wimp, but be advised I know what it is to be hot. I've lived and worked in hot spots like Australia, New Mexico and the oilfields of Torrey Canyon where the thermometer routinely registered 120 degrees inside the compressor plant where I spent the three worst months of my life! Usually you go indoors to cool off, but in this case when we couldn't stand it any longer and we needed to cool off, we went outside where it was only 105 degrees! At night we roustabouts would go to the grocery store and stand in front of the frozen foods section and apply frozen bags of peas as cold compresses.

I read that when temperatures get over 91 degrees it can stunt cattle's growth, efficiency and reproductive performance. I can say with certainty that after a day in that compressor plant my reproductive performance was certainly the last thing on my mind! And we certainly weren't very efficient. We'd venture into the plant to tighten a big bolt one revolution before escaping outside again. On some days, especially if we had a good card game going on in the air conditioned doghouse, it could take all day to sufficiently tighten one bolt.

In one of my job's I had to visit feedlots in California's Imperial Valley where, in the words of the immortal Mark Twain, “It got hot enough to melt a brass doorknob.” (And that's paraphrasing politely.) You couldn't cool off by going swimming in a motel pool because the water was hot enough to slip the hair on a hog. A motel sauna would have been redundant! Everyone got up and did their work early when it was only 114 degrees in the shade. Except there wasn't any shade! I remember I showed up one time to interview an El Centro feedlot manager and he had the good sense to send his Spanish speaking maintenance man in his place. The place looked like a ghost town.

Death Valley holds the record in the U.S. for the hottest day when it reached 134 degrees. I think it was the day I was there! I know I left a layer of skin there on the black leather upholstery when I got out of the car, and I swear the few bushes I saw were begging the dogs to provide some relief. It has to be the worst place in the world to lose one's keys but that's what I did, and when I finally found them in the dust of Death Valley they left a lasting reminder in the form of a burn scar on my hand.

The most miserable I've ever been was once in south Texas where I went to work a Brahman dispersion. The heat and humidity had exceeded even the long-ear's ability to dissipate it. I've lived through months of days when the temperature was higher, after all, it was only 98. The problem was that was the percent humidity too! I'd have asked to have someone hose me off with a garden hose but I was already dripping wet.

As part of the sale crew my problems were only compounded when a supplement salesman handed out “Texas Air Conditioners” to all the buyers and bidders in attendance. Perhaps they did provide some form of relief, and sold some supplement as they were intended to do, but the worst thing you can possibly do at a cattle auction is hand out fans to a bunch of panting and gasping-for-breath bidders.

Or, judging by the record cattle prices that day, perhaps it was the best thing you could ever do!

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