What's one of the best things about working at Johnny's Research Facility in Albion? Why working outside doing something you love! Everyone here is an outside person; we have hikers and bikers, hunters and fishermen, gardeners, horse riders, four wheeler and snowmobile buffs and just a lot of people that like getting outdoors. And most of these people don't mind the weather; that's just a small part of the outdoor experience. I know I've had some of my most memorable experiences hunting and fishing in the worst weather. There are some precautions however that we all must take so that's what I'm going to talk about today.
The top three things farmers and gardeners need to look out for are Lyme disease, rabies and equine encephalitis. Lyme disease gets a lot of attention especially now that ticks are everywhere. As a kid we had never heard of ticks; as I got older they started migrating north and east and now they're pretty common. Not many days go by that we don't pick one off the dogs after they come in. I remember hearing horror stories about how ticks were everywhere in the mid-Atlantic states and how you had to check yourself every day after you were in the outdoors for any length of time. Now that we're used to them, this isn't a big deal. It's necessary, but not a big deal, taking all of 30 seconds at the end of the day.
Fortunately I haven't seen many deer ticks, most we have are common dog or wood ticks. They are larger and look like a bean seed when filled with blood. The dogs get them from laying in the grass and some years are better than others for their populations. Of course now is where I start preaching the benefits of guinea fowl, ducks and lots of chickens. Peggy will say we have too many birds but I am quick to point out that we don't have many ticks when everyone else says what a bad year it is for them. I'd much rather have birds then ticks; they have so much more personality!
Rabies is carried by warm blooded animals including dogs, foxes, raccoons and bats – animals we often interact with. Animals that don't look quite right; that appear not to be frightened by humans are the ones to watch. Growing up on the farm I remember my father telling of foxes that would come into the barns to steal cats or attack calves were often as not rabid and dispatched quickly. A rabid animal may be confused with an animal that has mange. In either case, it is wise to stay away from the animal until it can be dealt with by someone who knows how to handle this situation; usually a game warden. Animals infected with rabies often bite domestic dogs and can infect cattle and horses, so keep an eye out when working around your animals. And, luckily, birds don't get rabies so that's one less concern with them.
Equine Encephalitis is a deadly disease transmitted by mosquitoes. Anyone working outside is at risk for being bitten by mosquitoes – no surprise there. No one enjoys being bit by mosquitoes so wearing bug spray or headnets and minimizing bare skin in areas where there are high mosquito populations will help minimize exposure to diseases they carry.
Horses used to be quite prone to EE and were used as a gauge of the disease in a given area. Now, most people vaccinated their horses for EE and other viruses as well. The single biggest way to prevent getting this and other mosquito borne diseases is prevention. Little things add up in mosquito breeding circles; old tires are notorious for being a haven for breeding them as are old buckets, pails – anything that'll hold water and not agitate it, will be a welcoming place for mosquitoes to breed. Animal watering pans and buckets should be dumped and refilled at least twice a week, gutters should be inspected to prevent pooling of water in them and anything that will hold water, even for a few days should be checked for mosquito larvae and dumped out and overturned if possible. Barrels, old bird baths, and piles of plastic all can hold usable amount of water that mosquitoes can breed in.
That said, I've off to look around my buildings and see what holds water that doesn't need to. Until next week, enjoy May.