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.