News Letter: Summer 2002

Another very bad year of drought and fires for Colorado. If you are weary of the subject, then read no further. If you have a passing interest in sheep surviving smoke and fires, then read on.

The Big Elk Meadow fire (3.5 miles west of our farm) started in the afternoon on July 17, 2002 and was somewhat "contained" by around July 30. "Contained" does not mean that the fire is put out, it means that the firefighters have a perimeter about the fire that is defensible, if there are no more extreme winds. Smoke continued on for some days after that, until there was a bit of rain around the 5th of August ... the first rain since June 19th.

During the days, the winds were out of the south, southeast, then at twilight the wind would die down and then shift to out of the west. This would bring the smoke in to settle over us for most of the night. So long as they were able to keep the fire from crossing Highway 36 we knew that we would probably be all right.

We were very concerned about the effects of prolonged exposure to the smoke. The State Veterinarian had nothing to say nor did the Veterinary staff up at CSU. Our own vet said that over time, the smoke would strip the linings of the lungs, throat, and or sinuses and leave them susceptible to pneumonia or other infections. My throat certainly felt sore and raw.

I had found an article that said the following: "In the respiratory tract - the nose, sinuses, trachea (windpipe) and the smaller airways of the lungs there are millions of tiny "oars" called cilia. These move back and forth to remove the smoke products. In the nose they beat backwards and move these products out of the nose to the stomach. In the chest they beat upwards to move the unwanted material out of the lungs to the throat, where the end up harmless in the stomach."

smoke on the ridge

"If you can keep the cilia active, you can avoid the problems that come from smoke inhalation.

Wood fires create chemicals such as carbon monoxide and various aldehydes that act to impair cilia function. One bad sign: when the cilia of the chest can't do their job, coughing takes over. Either there is too much material in the lungs for the cilia to handle or the cilia aren't moving enough to do their job."

"Besides avoiding the smoke, what can you do?
a.Do breathe through a wet mask.
b.Drink large amounts of tea. Tea stimulates the cilia. Decaffeinated tea is fine.
c.Chicken soup also speeds cilia.
d.Drink enough of any liquids so that the urine turns light colored, almost clear.
e.Use a nasal moisturizer spray. Be sure there is no benzalkonium or other preservative that might impair the nasal function. One recommended product is Breathe-Ease .This is a special formula that is designed to improve nasal cilia function. Comes with a spray bottle and contains no preservative chemicals. You can use it as a spray to cleanse the nose and as a mist to moisten the nose. By cleaning the nose this way you can preserve the normal nasal function."

These were all good things for us to do ... we drank LARGE amounts of tea! But it was less obvious what could be done for the sheep. The following came from a shepherd (John) in Australia, where fires passing through the farms are more frequent: "Smoke will cause stress in that the animal has a natural instinct to move away from fire. Smoke to the animal is the first sign of fire. I usually bring the sheep into a yard (pen) and place a spray over the yard to dispell the smoke. This means that the sheep will be wet but then if you have flying cinders this will stop any damage to the fleece.

Apart from that keep as normal as possible ie keep the sheep quite and let them settle down. The smoke will not harm them - if it is so bad that they have trouble breathing then you will also. When it is too much for you then it is too much for the sheep.

The signs will be such things as the animals will not settle down - they will be moving back and forwards etc they will call and the call, will be quite loud and regular. A quite talk to them will settle them down - if you are calm then they will be. This is when the art of a shepherd comes into play - the sheep have to trust you."

So, during the bad smoke days or nights, I kept them up in the pens, fed extra food, made sure they had plenty of clean water to drink and kept them as quiet as possible.
I drank more tea and wondered where I would get more hay to feed and if it would ever rain again.

setting sun through smoke

sheep and smoke

On the days that the smoke wasn't too bad, the sheep went out and tried to find a bit of something to eat. The vet thought it best for them to keep moving and being "normal" as much as was possible. The drought has created a whole host of other problems ... mostly finding hay and then trying to figure out how to pay for it, as it is more than double the average cost. We have sold off as many of the flock as is possible without compromising our Bond and Corriedale breeding program.

We had more than just the Big Elk Meadow fire ... there were 4 other lightening strike fires within 1/2 mile of the farm throughout the summer. These we fought with the local Lyons firefighters. The one on the afternoon of July 22 was the worst of those fires. It was lucky (you could say) that there were so many resources available so close at hand fighting the Big Elk fire. Because they were able to call in a slurry bomber and water bucket helicopter immediately, that fire was kept under control and put out within 24 hours. Without that help, that fire would have overtaken our farm very quickly.

I had wondered what sort of effect the fires had on the birds and animals that live in the mountains. It wasn't long before we found ourselves feeding about 3 times the normal number of Gold Finches, Pine Siskins, and assorted Hummingbirds. The fires had forced them from some of the burn areas into our area. I suppose it was a measure of the smoke not being bad enough at our farm for them to leave and go even farther away?

close fire

Here is a shot of one of the closer lightening strike fires.
Friends have been writing "rain chants" which we have tried ... along with anything else anybody has suggested might help make it rain. "Rain Sticks" and dancing, turtle rattles and singing, praying to anybody we thought might be listening ... we just really need some rain!

gold finches broadtailed hummingbird

Some of our summertime "guests".
We all hope that next summer will be easier on us all!

[an error occurred while processing this directive]