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Keep your chickens cool to prevent losses in hot weather.

Almost every summer we hear of chickens dying by the thousands during heatwaves. While heat stress is somewhat less of a problem in homestead flocks, you might be interested in knowing about experiments that have demonstrated a 30 percent increase in survival rates under conditions of extreme heat (103 [degrees] and 50 percent humidity).

You merely "starve" the birds.

The reason fasting increases survival rates in hot weather, according to Bob Teeter of Oklahoma State University where the feed withdrawal technique was demonstrated, is that birds that are digesting feed are producing heat. The extra heat from metabolizing that feed can raise their body temperatures one or two degrees. In extreme heat, that can be enough to kill them.

Of course, chickens (and other animals) stop eating when they are heat stressed, but by that time it's too late. It takes four to six hours for a broiler's digestive tract to empty, Teeter explains. So the idea is to withhold feed before the birds are subjected to extremely high temperatures. Teeter suggests withdrawing feed about six hours before the temperature is expected to reach 90 [degrees]. (We can already hear some readers saying, "Around here the temperature never goes below 90 [degrees] in the summer!" However, the actual temperature at which birds are heat stressed depends on the relative humidity. As humidity rises, the temperature at which birds are heat stressed gets lower.)

The bird can be put back on feed when the mercury hits the same temperature on the way back down.

In the OSU trials, this worked out to be about 12 hours off feed. There was a small decrease in weight gain, but this was more than compensated for by a lower death loss.

The trials, which involved only broilers, also showed that the hotter and more humid the weather, the more beneficial fasting is. At 100 [degrees] and 40 percent humidity, the difference in the survival rate between fasting and full-fed birds was only 10 percent.

Another cooling method

Teeter advises that you can also help your birds keep cool in hot weather by providing cool water. A drinking water temperature of 50 [degrees] can lower broiler body temperatures by about two degrees, he said.

Cool water is not always enough, though. When chickens become heat stressed they squat and spread their wings, making no effort to move or drink water. One of Teeter's studies found that gently walking among such birds increased their water consumption by eight percent.

Delicacies not fit for the squeamish

Boiled, fertilized, partially-incubated duck eggs arc considered a delicacy by Filipinos (who call them balut) and Vietnamese (hot vit lon). The eggs are incubated for 17 of the 28 days it takes to hatch a duckling. Ducks which have been crossbred for high egg production (up to 290 per year) are available from Metzer Farms, 26000 Old Stage Rd, Gonzales, CA 93926 (800-424-7755).
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Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Jul 1, 2000
Words:482
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