Tag Archives: Chickens

TTG Kitchen Gardeners’ Backyard Chickens Workshop

three inquisitive backyard chickens against a wooden fence

The best pets ever.

Ever dreamed about keeping chickens? This is the best time of year to get started so that come spring you’ll have happy, egg laying chooks to eat your scraps and fertilise your garden. Following our very successful previous chicken workshops, join us for our fourth workshop of 2015 to learn the basics of chicken keeping.

This workshop is primarily for beginners and people considering getting chooks but not sure yet. The workshop will be run by Kitchen Gardeners’ resident ‘chook lady’ and veternarian Barb Frey, who will cover the basics of set up including council rules, chicken care, and her new favourite hobby – natural chicken food! She’ll also cover how to rule out the risk of pesticide residue in your soil before you start. We’ll be at Flo’s house who has a very impressive chicken coop and run, some newly hatched chicks and is sure to inspire. 

Kids’ Club

Kids are welcome – we’ll have some supervised hands-on children’s activities happening in conjunction with the workshop if your child wishes to play. 

We like to share. Please bring:

  • Something from your garden/kitchen for the sharing table (eg. seedlings, fruit, herbs, eggs etc)
  • Something to share for afternoon tea.

Event details:

RSVP: We’ll be in a Guildford back yard. Please RSVP via Eventbrite so we can have an idea of how many people to expect.

Cost: Entry is by donation to cover basic costs – coffee and tea etc

Date: Sunday 19th July

Venue: It looks like it will be raining, so we’ll meet at the Mechanics Institute (20 Meadow street, Guildford). And try to visit Flo’s place round the corner if the weather permits.

Time: Join us from 1 pm until 3 pm

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Helping your hens survive the heat

The Chook Chronicles: Heat Stress in Backyard Hens

Although the weather seems not as bad as it was last summer, average temperatures are still 1 – 2°C higher than the long term average, and heat waves are tending to be hotter and longer. Tragically, quite a few friends and neighbours from Guildford and surrounding suburbs have recounted the terrible upset of losing hens to heat stress.

Summer’s not over yet, so now is a good time to review what you can do to prevent deaths due to heat stroke, and to reduce heat stress in your backyard hens.

The body temperature of chickens is higher and more variable than that of mammals; in adult hens it ranges from 40.6 – 41.7°C. Smaller breeds tend to have a higher body temperature than larger ones, probably due to metabolic rate. Activity increases body temperature, and chickens that are growing or producing a lot of eggs will also have a higher average body temperature.

A hen’s high average body temperature makes it easier to lose heat into the surrounding air, but like humans, this happens most easily when air temperature is well below body temperature.

The ideal air temperature range for chickens at which their body functions best (the ‘thermal neutral zone’) is 18 – 24°C! Hens therefore begin to experience a degree of heat stress above 24°C. Just like people though, the temperature range that chooks can stand depends on the length of exposure, and what protection they have.

Birds do not have sweat glands, so they pant to evaporate moisture for cooling, and to draw into their air sacs deep in the body to cool it. Hens will start to pant above 32°C and above 50% relative humidity. However, panting for evaporative cooling loses effectiveness above 70% humidity, greatly reducing birds’ ability to tolerate heat. The lethal upper limit for body temperature for chickens is 45 – 47°C. Chickens are at risk of death from heat prostration at air temperatures above 38°C.

Clearly, chooks are most vulnerable to heat stress during the following weather conditions:

  • Heat waves: especially when high temperatures persist for more than 3 days
  • Peak daytime temperature reaches or exceeds 35°C
  • Heat fails to dissipate overnight. Like people, hens can recover well if night-time temperatures drop back down to or near their ‘neutral zone’ (ie below about 26°C)
  • Periods of high humidity, e.g. common in late February in WA
  • Chooks that are broody or at peak of egg laying are particularly vulnerable
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Both hens below are panting – breathing through open beak instead of nostrils. Small hens such as the bantam hen on the left have a higher body temperature than larger hens, and are thus more susceptible to heat stress. The Isa Brown hen on the right has some feather loss, which likely helps to release body heat.

Ways to minimize heat stress in backyard laying hens

  • Fresh drinking water must be freely available at all times. Hens will drink twice as much at 38°C compared to 27°C. This can be as much as 400 – 500mL per average sized laying hen per day when it’s hot. The longer hens are exposed to high temperatures, the more they will drink (i.e. they drink more on the last day of a heat wave than the first day). Hens that are at their peak of lay will drink 50% more than average egg layers.
  • On very hot days, offering chilled water is beneficial – well below 28°C (e.g. add ice cubes or use an insulated container). Hens will drink more and lose heat more easily
  • Access to full shade – natural or artificial. Shade will also reduce reflected sunlight and glare, as long as trees, branches and other types of shade are situated in a way that does not interfere with air flow
  • Ventilation: Unrestricted or unobstructed air flow helps reduce the heat load through natural (location, pen construction) or artificial (fan) means
  • Evaporative cooling, e.g. wet hessian, jungle fogger, mister, sprinkler on the roof or in the pen. Solar misters, sprinklers and fans are now quite affordable and may be set to operate on a timer at peak times of the day
  • Feed at night when heat produced through digestion will be less. On very hot days, avoid feeding for 6 – 8 hours before the hottest part of the day
  • Ensure that the hen house is well insulated. Metal enclosures or a metal roof can greatly magnify and radiate heat
  • Heat stress is additive with other sources of stress such as parasites, social stress from insufficient space, broodiness, introduction of new hens, etc. Always take weather into account when managing these other potentially stressful factors
  • If you have a broody hen that is not actually sitting on eggs when a heat wave is expected, consider taking measures to discourage broodiness at this time. If hens are incubating eggs, make sure they have access to water at all times and are located in a deeply shaded area.
  • If no one is at home on very hot days, consider inviting a neighbour to check on your hens during the hottest part of the day. Checking shade and water, providing a sprinkler briefly or adding ice cubes to water may mean the difference between life and death.
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Heat stressed rooster panting (breathing fast with an open beak). Note the very bad infestation of stickfast mites all over his comb and wattles (black).

If you would like to learn a bit more about chickens and hot weather, search for ‘heat stress’ on The Poultry Site

Chook Chronicles

One of the most enjoyable activities that Transition Town Guildford engaged in this year was the Sunny Side Up backyard hen project. This involved 25 households from the City of Swan that had never had chickens before, but were keen to learn. The aim was to reduce household organic waste to landfill by feeding kitchen scraps to hens instead. The course was supported by the WA Waste Authority, and involved basic coursework on hen care, feeding, housing and health, as well as a field trip. With the waste reduction theme, the aim was also to build the hen houses from recycled materials. At the end of the course, participants received 3 chooks: a retired battery hen, a ‘point-of-lay’ pullet (meaning a young hen destined for commercial egg laying), and a traditional breed of hen.

Sunny Side Up participants

The cornerstone of the course was promotion of good hen welfare through appropriate housing, sufficient space (whether hens could range freely or not), and appropriate feed. These are all areas in which advice sourced through the internet is often conflicting and inaccurate. We also covered basic health care and parasite control. We had a great time running the course, and the participants were pleased to discover that their confidence grew as the course progressed. We thoroughly enjoyed getting to know everyone in the course, and participants have LOVED getting to know their chooks. People have clearly been delighted to discover how social hens are and what distinctive personalities they have. And… can’t beat the taste of home-grown eggs!

Tim & Olive with new friend

Tim & Olive with new friend

The course included a follow-up session a month after people got their chooks, with a degree of support thereafter so we could get a feel for common problems that people experience. We learned the following:

  • Some households discovered their hens had feather mites, which are not well controlled by the parasite treatment regime that was recommended. This is because feather mites are not blood sucking parasites: they graze on scurf and dandruff (dead skin cells), so therefore do not get a good dose of medication. The best way to treat this is with a parasite dust.
  • A few households had bad luck with sick or injured hens. The most common cause of illness and death was ‘yolk peritonitis’, which occurs when a yolk ruptures in the abdomen or egg gland, and becomes infected. This is incurable by the time it becomes obvious what the problem is.
  • Popular names for ex-battery hens included ‘Energiser’ and ‘Eveready’

As for many of our other workshops and activities involving sustainability themes, participants in the Sunny Side Up project found that once they got on a roll with hens and kitchens scraps, it then became compelling to get into composting, work farming or other simple household sustainable living initiatives. We have loved running into course participants at other Transition Town events such as our movie nights.

We will not be running a full chicken care course like Sunny Side Up in 2014, but we will continue to run our annual Kitchen Gardeners backyard hen workshop (November), and also our annual chook workshop at Lockridge Community Garden. The City of Swan Libraries will also be running backyard chicken courses during the Easter school holidays, which Transition Town Guildford will be contributing to. If you are interested in attending any of these workshops, then please sign up to our Email newsletter, and check out the Upcoming events or Facebook page to hear more.

Barb

This project was supported by the Waste Authority through the Waste Avoidance and Resource Recovery Account. We also acknowledge the assistance of the Men of the Trees.