We bought two new chickens on the weekend. A buff Sussex named Quince and a Light Sussex named Quentin. My Australian friends will know who she is named for. ; - ) They have been hand reared on a rare breed chicken farm so they love being carried around and are very tame. They've settled in very well with the other girls and Martha, our buff Orphington, is looking after them. Martha is a big golden puff of a chook; she looks motherly and is gentle and slow. I'm sure they'll enjoying living here.
We love our chooks. They are a constant source of entertainment for us. They help make our backyard the productive place we want it to be and they give us healthy eggs with golden yolks that taste much better than any egg you can buy in a supermarket. Even the expensive organic omega 3 eggs don't come close to a backyard egg. The difference is freshness. Domestic eggs are always superior because they don't go through the cycle of being collected, graded, transported and unpacked, to sit on a shelf for a period of time.
We live in the sub tropics, so we have a very short Spring and a long Summer. In the next week or so we'll start preparing the backyard for Summer. We want our chickens to be as comfortable as they can be during the hot months so there are a few things we can do now to provide that comfort.
The most important place in a hen's life is her coop. It needs to be protective from predators and the weather and safe enough for her to lay her eggs there. Hanno cleans out the coop on a regular basis but in the next week he'll check that everything is in order, he'll get rid of cobwebs and do a thorough clean out of the coop and the nesting boxes. We have 14 chickens and four nests. They always have a favourite nest but all four of the nests are being used now so that tells me they feel comfortable in all of them. Our coop has doors that can be closed. Sometimes when there is a severe storm forecast we will herd the chooks into the coop and close the door. Chooks have been known to die of fright during a thunderstorm, so we make sure they're confined to a place they know and feel safe in.
Out in the yard, there are plenty of shady places but we also put up little metal sheets that they can shelter under and stay dry when it rains. If you live in a hot climate, it's best to let the chooks find their own cool places. They will generally be where they can scratch into the dirt and make little hollows. They sit in these when it's hot and the soil cools them. When it's hot and you see the chooks have make these hollows, get the hose and wet the hollows, it helps the chooks cool down more. Our chooks have chosen the area under a clump of short palm trees as their favourite place on a hot day. There are plenty of those little scratched hollows there and we make sure to keep the area hosed down on hot days.
Another thing we'll do closer to the hot weather is to get some shallow water containers that the chooks can stand in. They will cool down by standing in the water. Make sure the water is in the shade and stays cool. If you have a really hot day, you could herd the chickens into the coop and put the sprinkler on the roof for a short time. Overall though, letting the chooks find their own cool spot and leaving them there all day will probably serve you best. Make sure you check on them during the hottest part of the day.
Make sure there are ALWAYS several containers of cool fresh water. All of them should be in the shade.
If the chooks suffer from heat stress they'll stop laying and if it's severe enough they won't lay for weeks, sometimes months. Heat stress is a big problem with chickens, it's best to avoid it rather than treat it. If you do have a heat stressed chook, dunk it under some cool water to cool it down. If she's been sitting in a dirt hollow, wet the area with a hose to cool things down a bit. If you have electricity in the hen house,and you can't let the chooks free range, put an electric fan out there on the worst hot days.
Chooks ask so little of us, just a bit of food, water and safety, and they return so much. Don't leave your preparations too late. When the hot weather sets in, you'll be better off sitting on the verandah with a cold ginger beer rather than rushing about trying to keep the chooks cool.