Sort & Cull

The Panting Rise of the Dog Star

John Harrington
By  John Harrington , DTN Livestock Analyst

According to the Old Farmer's Almanac, the dog days of summer officially began Tuesday, right before July 4, and settling in for 40 days of sweltering heat through August 11. So stock up on salt pills, industrial deodorant, and double-digit SPF sunscreen. It's apt to be a sweaty ride.

I know what you're thinking. The last half of the second quarter hasn't exactly been sweater weather. How much hotter can the great outdoors get?

Who knows? Even the very best of weather gurus (e.g., DTN's own Bryce Anderson) will admit that longer-term temperature and precipitation maps are often no more reliable than forecasting commodity brokers, political pundits and bipolar gypsies.

Still, if you're the type that habitually places "show" bets at the local racetrack, I'd keep irrigation and sprinkler service people on speed-dial during the next six weeks. After all, they don't call them "dog days" for nothing.

Come to think of it, how did man's best friend come to describe the most uncomfortable days of summer? Maybe Groucho Marx was right after all when he said "Outside of a dog, a book [Dopplar radar] is man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read."

Actually, the origins of the phrase "dog days" and its sweltering implications have nothing to do with increased frequency of rabies or the length of your blue heeler's dripping tongue when the mercury in your thermometer bubbles north of 100.

That's not to say it has nothing to do with science. But the branch is astronomy rather than veterinary.

The term goes back to ancient times, linked not to panting canines, but marking when Sirius, the Dog Star, starts rising at dawn.

Sirius is the brightest star in the sky, if you don't count the sun. Under the right conditions, it can even be seen with the naked eye during the day. Sirius is one star in a group of stars that form the constellation Canis Major, meaning "Greater Dog" (aka "the dog star").

Let's not forget that the rising of Sirius in the night's sky develops just several weeks after the Summer Solstice, which of course also indicates that heat will soon set in.

Stargazers and farmers of antiquity differed from one culture to the next about whether the season of the dog represented a blessing or a curse. On one hand, the Egyptians knew the appearance of Sirius coincided with the flooding of the Nile, creating humid and muggy conditions that really encouraged the ultimate fertility and yield of agricultural production.

On the other hand, the Greeks and Romans feared the same dog days for the way they fostered illness and disease. At one point the poet Virgil wrote with great contempt, calling Sirius the "bringer of drought and plague to frail mortals, rises and saddens the sky with sinister light."

While that's all old superstition, modern monitors of agricultural market still see the dog days of summer with ambivalence and caution. Intense summer heat can either make or break the bounty of row crops. At the same time, these barking days of extreme temperatures can either launch livestock prices sharply higher thanks to lighter weights or death loss, or they can cause consumer demand to implode as meat appetites melt like ice cream cones.

None of this is to suggest that the dawning of dog days will necessarily assume market center stage. Trade war rhetoric, tariffs, and historically large meat supplies will continue to be major players. Yet look for the orbit of the dog star in the weeks ahead to at least make the midsummer script more interesting, perhaps interesting enough to remain in the shade with your telescope at the ready.

John Harrington can be reached at

Follow him on Twitter @feelofthemarket



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