Egg Files

Country Smallholding - - Inside This Month -

With Michelle Dunn

It’s been an odd sort of year, weath­er­wise. We had a dry spring, then a phe­nom­e­nally hot pe­riod in May, fol­lowed by a rainy pe­riod. The chick­ens will change their be­hav­iour sig­nif­i­cantly when the weather changes, but not al­ways in the way you might think.

Chick­ens orig­i­nally came from a very hot coun­try, as you might ex­pect from their brightly coloured feath­ers. I used to think that the chick­ens would rel­ish the hot weather, but this is not the case. Chick­ens love warm weather and will bask hap­pily in the sun, but when the tem­per­a­ture rises above 25 de­grees they tend to seek out the shade. Dur­ing the re­ally hot weather we had in May and June they spent most of the day in the shade, only com­ing out to ac­tively for­age in the cooler morn­ings and evenings.

This makes sense. Hens are plump­ish crea­tures, well cov­ered in feath­ers, and their only way to cool down is open-beaked pant­ing, which is not a very fast method of cool­ing. Cock­erels are slim­mer but those wat­tles are vul­ner­a­ble to sun­burn, so it is wise for them to stay in the shade. Added to which, when the ground is dry and the air is hot, in­sects and worms are less abun­dant, so there’s no point wast­ing en­ergy look­ing for them. Much bet­ter to adopt that leisurely Con­ti­nen­tal habit of the siesta.

Although I have no sci­en­tific proof, I think the in­ci­dence of fox at­tacks dur­ing hot weather de­creases as well. Not only are the cubs now old enough to hunt for them­selves, food is more abun­dant in the sum­mer. This is par­tic­u­larly true af­ter the fields have been cut for hay and silage. Many vole and rab­bit nests are ex­posed when this hap­pens, as well as an­i­mals caught in the cut­ting process. Foxes are also tak­ing ad­van­tage of the good weather, leisurely hoover­ing up the rich pick­ings on of­fer and not in­ter­ested in the dan­gers and en­ergy in­volved in a chicken raid. The chick­ens en­joyed th­ese long, drowsy af­ter­noons as much as I did, but now that Septem­ber is here there’s a ‘Back to School’ feel in the air. There is a damper smell in the morn­ing and the feel­ing of cooler air to come, with the days now no­tice­ably shorter. There’s still time, how­ever, to suck the last bit of en­joy­ment from the tail end of the sum­mer weather, and the chick­ens seem to be en­joy­ing this as much as me.

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