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Sunday, July 8, 2012

Summer Heat, part one: R.I.P. Prudence

Prudence, during last year's heat wave
Wisconsin is known for its blizzardy winters, and those that have lived here before also know that the summers can be quite hot and humid. Having lived in both Central and Southern Wisconsin, I've come to further appreciate the stark difference - our summers are often a tad warmer than those where I grew up. This last week though, Southern Wisconsin (and maybe the whole state!?) faced unprecedented heat. We were under a heat warning for six days, with temperatures over 100 for five of them. The humidity didn't help. We knew our pets, specifically our chickens would need a lot of care. We looked up last year's blog past regarding heat and did what we needed to do: water baths, lots of water, free-ranging and leading the hens to the shade, and frozen treats. It didn't matter. On Wednesday, Prudence went into her coop to lay an egg, emerged a few hours later, and fell over -- dead.

If you've followed our blog for any length of time, you'll know that we see our chickens how many people see their pet birds, cats, or dogs. We truly love them, and it was shocking to witness one of our ladies literally drop dead from the heat. We buried her, and then went into emergency mode with the other hens. We brought Sadie into the house where it was a little cooler and put her in the bathtub with some frozen berries.

She perked up after about 10 minutes in the water. (Don't mind our rusty tub!)
We filled up a kiddie pool and took turns setting each of the hens in the water (Rocky, the rooster, was not appreciative of this experience). Janis didn't mind it at all...

My little hen princess eventually laid down in the water.
And, for the rest of the week, we took hens that were laying eggs out of the coop occasionally to put their feet in cool water.

Then, we asked the questions: Were we negligent in some way? Did we do something wrong? Could we have done more? And, painfully, we decided that yes - there were a few things we could have done better.

For starters, when we got our coop two summers ago, we put it next to the house, which is right in the sun.

 We did this because we wanted to be in close proximity to the coop to listen for predators and to interact with our flock frequently. We also did this because we thought our winters would be the real issue and that our house would serve as a barrier to the wind and that the sun would be a nice warmer in our sub-zero temps. Plus, we ordered winter hardy birds...because after all ,we do live in Wisconsin. But it turns out the winters have been easy. The real trick has turned out to be the summer. Around the run, we always plant vine beans and other crawling foilage to serve as shade...but with the drought this summer, well - nothing is growing enough to provide shade.

Additionally, there are a few tips I've read online since Prudence's passing. We will keep these in mind for all future hot days.
1. Hang wet curtains over screens and fans in the coop.
2. Mix electrolyte powder into the water. If the chickens are so hot that they are unable to drink, give it to them with a syringe.
3. Lay hay or another material on the top of the roof to deflect the sun.

Prudence died instantly, and for that, we are thankful. She, as all our birds, was special and unique. She was an independent thinker, and she had the cutest and quickest waddle/run I've ever seen. The jet-black feathers around her neck were beautiful, and she loved being held. We hope we gave her a good life and that  she didn't experience any pain laying that last egg. We'll be sure we don't let that one go to waste.

One day old
With her "litter mates" and the cat

First time outside

Last summer's heat wave

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