Brutal heat affecting your appetite? Chickens feel the same — and you might have noticed the result

Brutal heat affecting your appetite? Chickens feel the same — and you might have noticed the result

February has seen temperatures rise to nearly 50 degrees Celsius in parts of Western Australia and people may find themselves being affected by the heat in more ways than one.

Temperature is a key factor in productivity for chickens, according to Margaret River Free Ranger Eggs owner Jan Harwood, who said commercial producers were always battling the elements.

“In summer our hens get hot and tend to eat less – a bit like us – and it’s mainly this eating less that affects egg size,” she said.

“You can expect to see smaller eggs in the supermarket.”

Jan Harwood from Margaret River Free Range Eggs.(ABC South West WA: Anthony Pancia)

Fewer eggs on the shelf?

Ms Harwood did not think there would be reduced availability.

“Generally speaking, it will not affect the number of eggs you see on the shelves,” she said.

“Having said that, sometimes in extreme heat, temperatures are difficult to control and hens can even die or go off the lay.”

Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA president and Fremantle Egg Company owner Ian Wilson said prices would stay the same.

“You’ll probably see more middle-of-the-range, 700-gram type size as the alternative to the jumbo 800,” he said.

Mr Wilson said egg producers may feel a financial pinch.

“If you’re feeding your chook and you’re getting a smaller egg, you’re not getting quite as good of a return,” he said.

“So the bottom line for the farmer will be slightly less over these months, but not for the consumer — they will stay the same price.”

People who have chooks in their yards are being urged to learn how to protect the birds from the heat.(ABC South West WA: Kate Forrester)

How to water your backyard hens

Mr Wilson said it was not just commercial producers who should be keeping a close eye on their birds.

“I think it’s a bigger impact on your so-called hobby farmers, or your people with 10 chooks in their backyard,” he said.

“They probably don’t have the ability to cool their little chicken houses down as much as commercials do.”

There is a pronounced difference in the size of eggs laid during warm periods.(ABC South West WA: Anthony Pancia)

Ms Harwood chicken owners needed to learn how to correctly cool hens.

“They shouldn’t wet their hens by putting a sprinkler on them or watering them down directly,” she said.

“The hens’ feathers will mat and stop the body from getting rid of excess heat.”

Ms Harwood told the ABC that backyard producers could think about supplementing water.

“We give our hens electrolytes during the heat of summer,” she said.

“They could even think about putting some bicarb soda in the water to help the chickens beat the heat.”

Roosters dumped in heatwave

Bridgetown resident Tracey Barnett found herself chasing after several roosters on a 42C day.

“I kind of saw on the mirage of the road I’m like, ‘What is that crossing the road? That looks like a rooster, is that a rooster?'” she said.

“I obviously slowed down to check it out and it wasn’t one rooster, but three.”

The roosters were rescued on a section of road away from houses and water sources, which could mean the birds were dumped to fend for themselves.

Using a plastic bag from her truck, Ms Barnett immediately gave the roosters a much-needed drink of water.

“They just came running because they were just that dehydrated and thirsty … that their desire for thirst completely overrode their fear of me,” she said.

“It was pretty heartbreaking.”

After trying to entice the roosters with a bunch of kale, Ms Barnett called in reinforcements and Teena James from Gone Clucky arrived to catch the birds.

The roosters were at risk of being preyed upon by foxes or other predators, Ms Barnett said the lack of water was the cruellest feature of the apparent abandonment.

“If you’re going to breed [chickens] then you need to realise that there’s a high chance that you’re going to come out with roosters,” she said.

“You need to be prepared to deal with that situation appropriately, which is not just to dump them out in the middle of nowhere, where they’re not going to live as bush chooks happily ever after.”

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