The heat index soared this weekend, and that naturally raises questions about safety—for both our costumed interpreters and animals. Besides plenty of water, breaks, and shade, Coach & Livestock utilizes a heat index policy for working animals.
Cattle—like dogs—cannot sweat, so they are removed from work when the heat index reaches 95°.
Horses can sweat, making them more equipped for hot temperatures. Still, safeguards are in place. For working horses, each “shift” begins and ends with a cold-water rinse. Soap is not usually involved, as this rinse is meant to wash away sweat and cool the animal down. Hot weather also means meals of grain topped with electrolyte powder. The horses enjoy the taste (the powder comes in flavors like apple and mint), but more importantly, it helps replenish salt lost through sweat.
So what happens when the mercury goes up? It depends on the heat index. When the heat index hits 100°, the carriage horses sit out every other ride. This allows for more water breaks and rest in the shade. When the heat index reaches 105°, all carriage rides are suspended. The same threshold applies to interpreters riding horses through the Historic Area.
Similar precautions are in place for our Leicester Longwool sheep. On a regular day, you will see the sheep being herded around the Historic Area—you can even track them on our award-winning CW Explorer App. When the heat reaches 95°, however, they are taken straight to a pen on Market Square, where they have plenty of shade and water. If the heat index reaches 105°, the sheep are not taken out into the Historic Area at all.
When the animals are not working, they are either in a pasture with shade trees, or in the stables where large ceiling fans run constantly to provide air circulation. Automatic watering bowls have replaced the wooden troughs used in the “olden days,” which encourages all animals to drink and stay hydrated during the hot summer months.
All of these measures funnel toward one fundamental goal: happy, healthy animals. You can rest assured that the well-being of our Rare Breeds is a top priority.
Want to learn more about our Rare Breeds Program? Check out the Bits & Bridles tour! This one-hour walking tour of the Colonial Williamsburg stables provides a behind-the-scenes look at our facilities, carriages, and the chance to get up close and personal with some of our animals.