Feeling the Heat

My usual way of coping with the heat is to complain bitterly, wish I had a swimming pool and spend the day cowering in front of the little air-conditioner, refusing to prepare any meal that requires the use of the oven.  Watermelon features heavily on the menu.

The sun shines cheerfully or mercilessly, depending on how you view these things, bringing our overnight low of 27ºC up to a balmy 39ºC by mid-morning and I glance at the clock to see how many “heating hours” are left and amuse myself by predicting whether it will be 42ºC or 44ºC by one o’clock.

The animals cope in different ways and, aside from their disappointment to find the grass browner with every passing day, the goats and cattle seem quite unperturbed.  Meggy and Peggy the pigs lay in their wallows and sleep through it all.  The dogs hide in the shade, panting and rumbling warnings to all who invade their personal space.  Trouble is they are sharing the shade with several hundred chooks.

And it is the chooks that have the most objections to this weather.  Apparently, they are happiest between 21 and 24ºC, a very small and pedantic temperature window if you ask me.  As the temperature rises they hold out their wings to increase the airflow to their skin.  At about 30ºC, they begin to pant, releasing heat through evaporation from the lungs.  Then the problems start.

In this process of panting, they exhale a lot of carbon dioxide, raising their blood pH.  To be honest, my head is too hot for any more reading or research into the physiological consequences of this.  The basic result of the heat is they drink more (of course) and eat less – and if you don’t eat, you don’t lay eggs.  There are currently around 600 of our birds refusing to lay eggs – just like I’m refusing to cook using the oven.

According to some books, at 40ºC panting is often not enough to cool the bird and death can occur.  So, after having 30 days between mid October and mid January that have reached 40ºC or more and a further 11 days 37 to 39ºC, I am just grateful they have survived.  (Of course my temperature readings are from my digital thermometer on the coolest side of the house under the verandah and may be at odds with official temps – but when your eyeballs get dry while walking down to collect eggs, you become convinced that the thermometer is actually erring on the Artic side).

So really, this is a longwinded apology to all our customers who will find us run short of eggs for the next few months while we endure this summer and the birds recover.  As we only sell eggs we produce and do not “top up” with eggs from other producers, we, and by extension, you the customer, are subject to the true natural cycles of heat and cold, flood and drought, day length and the other processes involved in seasonal production.

For now we will focus on making sure the hens have damp soil to cool down in, ice in their water troughs, enough shade to accommodate all those chooks and their disgruntled guardian dogs, and say a quiet thank you to the brave birds that are still managing an egg every now and then, despite all the trials of an Australian summer west of the Divide.

And I will be thankful that it is too hot for flies and snakes, the washing is dry within an hour, the lawn doesn’t need mowing and that the kids don’t mind eating watermelon.

Postscript:  The hardiness of the birds was truly tested on the weekend of 12 – 13 January with temperatures reaching 48ºC and 47ºC and blasting hot winds straight off a desert somewhere.  I am sad to say that we lost 5 birds, which out of almost 1000 is much better than all the disasters I had been imagining.  I can honestly say there is a huge difference in those last few degrees – I sat in the kiddies pool and I’m sure I was still sweating.  It was 37 ºC in the kitchen…. with the air-conditioner on.  So “bravo” to the 975 birds who endured unto the end.  Let’s be thankful they were not tested by fire, after the incredible inferno that destroyed most of the Warrumbungles and so many homes.