Ask the Expert: Summer

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Ice Water in Hot Weather

I love your magazine and wait eagerly for each edition. In the February/March 2017 issue, there was an article on giving chickens ice water. Your readers need to check out advice with a vet before doing the advice given. I am NOT putting down your magazine at all. Please don’t think that. I heard from someone that it’s a good idea to put ice in the chicken water, so I did. I killed every one of my chickens. I went to a friend and ask why this happened. He told me that certain animals such as chickens and pigs cannot have their body temperature changed quickly or they go into shock. Pigs and chickens cannot sweat, so their temperature needs to stay the same. I also asked a veterinarian and he told me the same thing. My friend, when he was a child, was taking care of pigs for a neighbor. He thought he was being kind and gave them ice water. He killed every pig. I give my chickens new water several times a day when it is really hot, but no more ice water. Thank you and hope this advice saves someone from going what I went through. It is hard to raise a bunch of chickens from peeps and then have them die, like this or in any way.

Linda Caldwell

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Hi Linda,

The fatalities you experienced with your flock are heartbreaking and this is a good topic to explore especially since it’s hot weather season in most of the country.

A visiting poultry veterinarian said he doesn’t know of any mechanism that would explain this being a problem. As a comparison, he said we drink ice water when we are hot, and it doesn’t kill us.

Very cold water can cause vasoconstriction (tightening of the blood vessels), which could slow blood flow throughout the body. This is usually seen in the blood vessels in the skin and extremities, though. This can actually have the effect of limiting cooling of the body core since less heat will be transported out to the extremities by the blood.

However, drinking cold water most likely doesn’t create enough of this effect to be noticeable. Since the water would go to the crop, it wouldn’t be drastic enough to cause a problem. Spraying birds with icy water or immersing them in cold water would be more likely to have this effect.

Not surprisingly, this hasn’t been researched in chickens!

There is some research on humans though, from the late 1950s. They overheated people to a rectal temperature of 104 degrees F, then compared methods of cooling. They also referenced one person, who was submerged in ice water to cool his body for heart surgery. This didn’t kill the person. Interestingly, they found that exposure to moving air, with or without wetting the skin, cooled the body faster than immersion in cool water. So, it might be good to point out that a fan (or somewhere with a natural breeze) would be better.

Again, this hasn’t been studied, so there could be some mechanism we’re not aware of. The best guess is that the deaths have been coincidental, possibly due to overheating.

Hope this helps!

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Moving Chickens 

We are planning a move from Texas to Ohio, probably within the next two to three months. We have a small flock of 15 chickens, mostly Bantam Silkies. We also have two Polish, an Olive Egger, and a Golden Laced Wyandotte. They are strictly pets. We give away eggs. We take really good care of our flock and they all have names. A couple of people have told us to sell or give away the chickens and start over after we move. We just can’t imagine this as we are attached to them. The oldest hen I have is about six. Most of them are one to two years old or less. Just wanted to see if you could advise us as to how to get them moved? Is there anyone that specializes in this type of thing? The heat in Texas and in a truck would be a big concern. 

Thanks! 

— Susan Shelly 

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Hi Susan, 

That’s a long journey! There are several options that come to mind: 

  1. There are professional pet transport companies that I found on a quick internet search. (Hint: search up “pet transportation,” not “livestock transportation,” as those companies mostly deal with truckloads of large animals such as cattle and swine.)  
  2. Network on social media with other people willing to help transport. This can take some searching to find people going your direction, but Backyard Poultry was just invited to a new group called Hitchhiking Chickens that does just that: find people to move other people’s birds.  
  3. I’ve moved 10-15 chickens at a time, and I agree that heat is a problem. If you don’t have a large SUV or van, you can rent one, so chickens can sit in a large dog crate and enjoy the air conditioning through the entire ride. I own crates that can comfortably hold full-sized goats, so two of those would accommodate all your chickens with room to scratch around.  

Also, be aware that interstate travel with livestock, pet chickens or otherwise, usually requires a current veterinarian certificate of health. Contact your veterinarian to obtain one. Fees can vary. 

Good luck with the move! 

— Marissa 

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Gardening with Chicken Manure

Fresh chicken manure in the garden — let me know if I’ve come up with a technique that is okay, or please warn me if I’m doing something crazy.

I double dig vegetable beds to retain top-earth organisms in the top earth. I put a spade of top earth to the right, a spade of under earth to the left. Down about 16 inches and along every four inches or more goes one scoop of chicken poop produced during the past week. Over the poop goes one to two inches of partially composted leaves, grass, etc. from my bin. Back goes the under earth, broken but not turned with the compost and poop. Back goes the top earth broken fine. Planted goes tomato and cucumber plants from the garden center. After three months, the plants are growing exponentially and fruits are appearing, better than I’ve seen for numerous springs.

My theory is that rain and irrigation do not take runoff from fresh poop to the plant roots and kill the plants because the fresh poop is down at least a foot under the new plant roots initially. Roots grow down and can stay away from hot manure, which may become good stuff the roots may take advantage later. Next year, when I double dig, the chicken poop will be ok mixed in with the under earth, I presume.

I read in your “Composting Guide” that 130-150° in a compost bin is needed to kill E. coli and Salmonella in chicken manure. But, 16 inches down I doubt the spread-out poop is unlikely to experience elevated temperatures. However, I’m not planting ground or root crops. Aren’t E. coli and Salmonella in the earth anyway?

I’ve seen YouTube videos about “chicken manure tea” that’s made from fresh poop. The tea is watered around plants. How come those plants benefit rather than dying off? How come such tea is not described in your “Composting Guide?”

Is anyone else doing what I’m doing, burying fresh poop? Could we get a band of experimenters to coordinate a study? Is there a protocol we should follow? Should we involve the Department of Agriculture? Someday, could this deep earth method join the literature about chicken manure?

So, for now, am I safe? Are my plants likely to survive and benefit through to the end of the season? Are my tomatoes and cucumbers consumable? Have I come up with a way to successfully use small amounts of fresh chicken poop?

Thanks from

Oliver Gildersleeve, Jr., Palo Alto, California

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Hi Oliver,

Thanks for your questions, and for the complete description of your method. It’s an interesting technique. Here are some thoughts that might be helpful. You might check with your local extension office, or your state’s land-grant university horticulture department to get their input.

Burying the droppings that deep might be just wasting them, as far as a fertilizer source. This would be the case with many plants, as they might not root down 16 inches. Apparently, tomatoes and cucumbers both do send roots fairly deep, so this probably isn’t the case. The next concern is that the roots might grow until they hit this layer, and then suffer. Adding the compost along with the manure may help with this. There are also probably a lot of microbes in the compost that help to degrade the manure quickly.

Regarding E. coli and Salmonella, soil microbes would destroy these bacteria fairly quickly. Some research that questions that, however, and these bacteria may remain viable for quite some time in the soil. It certainly seems that you are eliminating the risk of these bacteria being splashed up on the tomatoes or cucumbers by rain or watering since it’s buried deep.

It will be interesting to see how your garden does through the year.

Many people, composting will still work well, but your technique might be an alternative.

You also mentioned the manure tea. There is likely enough dilution with water that this doesn’t cause a problem for the plants.

Good luck with your chickens and your garden!

Ron

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I was delighted to get your reply.

I’ll respond with a report at the end of the season.

Maybe I’ll be able to get down the taproot and see if it goes through the layers of interest.

Regards, Oliver

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Shade for Chickens?

I just wanted to tell you how much I enjoy your magazine. My mother-in-law gets it, gives it to me, and I pass it on to another friend who has chickens. We all enjoy it.

Poultry Shade
Poultry Shade

I’m enclosing some pictures. My husband built me a new chicken house this summer and we got busy haying and didn’t get a shade put on the outside pen. I put up an old card table over the little door to the pen. They have really enjoyed it. They sit on it and I always tell them to “deal me in” when I go out there, or I ask, “Who’s winning?”

Anyway, I would like some ideas on a portable shade, one I could put up in the summer but take down in the winter. Any ideas?

Susan Sanderson, Nebraska

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Hi Susan,

It’s great that you’re thinking of ways to give your chickens shade in the summer. Helping them stay cool during the hot times of year is critical to their good health. Fortunately, there are lots of portable and removable shade options. Beach umbrellas can provide shade for humans and chickens alike. They are relatively inexpensive and easy to find. Also, the canopy tents people use for sporting events and camping create great shade areas for chickens. Many of the canopy tents also have anchors to hold them in place. There are so many options, but these two are perhaps the easiest and most convenient to find.

Best of luck!

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Please note that although our team has dozens of years of experience, we are not licensed veterinarians. For serious life and death matters, we advise you to consult with your local veterinarian.

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