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Some internal clocks won’t spring forward so easily this weekend

Time change irks farmers because of shift in animals' feeding schedules

POSTED: March 7, 2009 12:12 a.m.
SARA GUEVARA/The Times

Dixie Truelove, co-owner of the Truelove Dairy in Clermont, makes sure Friday that each milking apparatus is secured on the cows. Daylight saving time always poses a problem for farmers because their animals are accustomed to being fed or milked at a certain time each day.

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You’ll lose an hour of sleep tonight, and you won’t get it back until November.

Daylight saving time begins at 2 a.m. Sunday, with the annual "spring forward" ritual that can wreak havoc with the biological clocks of both humans and animals.

You might find it hard to get to sleep Sunday night because the clock may say it’s 10 p.m. but your body says it’s only 9. Similarly, it may be even tougher than usual to drag yourself out of bed Monday morning, when the clock may insist that it’s 6 a.m. but you feel like it’s still 5 a.m.

You’ll adjust to the change in a few days, but in the meantime you may feel tired and irritable, and you’re not as productive at work.

The time change has much the same effect on farm animals. A rigid schedule is essential for dairy cows and laying hens, and even a slight deviation can throw them out of sorts.

Not surprisingly, most farmers are not big fans of daylight saving time.

"Our cows are milked at 2 a.m. and 1 p.m., and they really like a schedule," said Dixie Truelove, co-owner of Truelove Dairy in North Hall. "The time change messes up their milk production for a few days."

To minimize the impact, dairy farmers try to ease their cows into DST gradually.

"You can start a few days before the time change and take it in 15-minute increments, to kind of get the cows acclimated," Truelove said.

Mike Haynes, a poultry farmer on Clarks Bridge Road, takes a different tactic: He pretends that daylight saving time doesn’t exist.

"We do not change the clocks inside the chicken house. We keep the lighting and feeding the same year-round," Haynes said.

Many biological functions in birds are stimulated by exposure to sunlight. But commercially raised chickens spend their whole life indoors, so farmers use artificial light to manipulate the birds’ behavior.

"They’re fed at 4 a.m. That’s when the lights come on, and they think it’s sunrise," Haynes said. "Right after they eat and drink in the morning, they start laying eggs. They lay all day long, but heavier in the morning. The lights go off at about 8:30 p.m., and they go quiet and stop moving around."

Since the chickens stay on the same schedule even though the clocks in the outside world have changed, the farmers have to change their work hours to accommodate the birds.

Haynes thinks daylight saving time is unnecessary and should be abolished.

"If it were up to me, I would change the time by 30 minutes and then keep it that way year-round," he said.

Taking away an hour of daylight in the morning isn’t necessarily the best thing for humans, either. People with seasonal affective disorder, a depression that worsens during the winter, experience an improvement in their mood if they are exposed to sunlight early in the morning.

Also, psychologists say people who suffer from sleep disorders such as insomnia may find their symptoms get worse in the summer, when long hours of sunlight in the evening can make them feel more awake at a time when their brain is supposed to be getting ready for sleep.

But lots of people are willing to make that trade-off because they love spending more time outdoors on summer nights.

"I’m the dad of an 8- and a 10-year-old," said Greg Walker, director of Hall County Parks and Leisure. "If I get home from work early enough, I enjoy being able to get out and play catch with my children."

Both personally and professionally, Walker is a big supporter of daylight saving time. "I’m 100 percent in favor of it," he said.

This year, DST will play a critical role in controlling costs at the parks department.

"Especially in this economy, when we’re very budget-conscious, it’s extremely helpful," Walker said.

"We spend about $200,000 a year on electricity. (DST) keeps our utility costs down because we don’t have to use as much electricity to light our ball fields. It also allows us to use facilities that have no lighting, such as elementary school playgrounds, later into the evening."

At these outdoor venues, DST continues to fulfill its original purpose of energy conservation. An early version of DST was used temporarily during World War I and World War II in order to conserve resources for the war effort.

During the energy crisis of the 1970s, a federal study found that DST cut national electricity usage by about 1 percent because people were using less indoor lighting in the evening.

A 2007 study, however, indicated that DST no longer provides any energy conservation. Prolonged sunlight causes heat to radiate into houses later in the day, so people crank up their air conditioners to compensate. And while they’re sitting indoors, they’re using power-sapping devices such as computers and plasma TVs.

But while the benefits of DST may seem unclear, it’s become an entrenched part of our culture and Congress is unlikely to abolish it.

And though having to "spring forward" all of your time-keeping devices is a nuisance, most people quickly adapt to the time change and forget about it.

Gordon Higgins, spokesman for Hall County Schools, said school officials aren’t concerned about kids having to wait in the dark at bus stops.

"We don’t anticipate a safety issue because by the time you get to March, it’s not all that dark, even if you change the time by one hour," he said.

And there won’t be massive tardiness on Monday, he predicts. "Kids adjust, just like we do," Higgins said. "I haven’t really heard about them falling asleep in class or anything like that."

Though most kids won’t miss school, they may be late for Sunday school. Since the time change always occurs on Sunday morning, families who forget to reset their clocks may show up at church just as the rest of the congregation is streaming out the door.

"There are always a couple of people that come at the wrong time," said the Rev. Ruth Demby, associate pastor for missions and family ministries at First Baptist Church in Gainesville. "And they look pretty shocked."



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