by Rebecca Nickols
Photos by author
It’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk! It’s so hot the chickens are laying hard-boiled eggs! There’s always some element of truth in many of the old folklore sayings, and with the record high temperatures we’ve had across the Midwest, I’ve been tempted to crack open an egg outside and test the myth …
Missouri’s heatwave is accompanied by another summer of drought and unbearable humidity. The weather is not only uncomfortable for me, the chickens are also showing signs of being affected by the soaring high temps. Birds have no sweat glands and must rely on other means of losing heat as the temperature rises. At 85°F, chickens will begin to pant. This has a cooling effect, because panting increases the rate of evaporation. This also will cause the bird to be thirstier and increase its water intake on hot days. Without sufficient water, birds will begin to exhibit signs of heat stress. For example, their comb and wattles become shrunken and bluish, and they will spread their wings in an attempt to allow more cool air to reach their skin.
The importance of providing clean, cool, fresh water to your flock cannot be overemphasized. A chicken is 70 percent water, and a loss of only 10 percent of that water will result in the bird’s death. On a normal day, a hen might drink a pint of water a day. In the heat of summer, though, this requirement doubles … and sometimes triples! Hens that lack sufficient water will produce fewer eggs and are more prone to illness and disease. Restricted access to water can even force a hen into a molt, which may stop her egg production entirely. Water also plays a role in the digestive system of a chicken. When a chicken eats, food is first stored in the crop. This can include whole seeds and entire bugs! A sufficient amount of water is required to soften the food in the crop, so that digestion in the stomach and intestines is more effective.
Having water available is of the utmost importance, but the quality of this water is equally important. Chickens will drink more if the water is fresh, clean and cool. Chickens prefer a water temperature of 55°F. If the water is hotter or colder than the ideal temperature, they will drink less. Taste is another factor. Chickens will naturally avoid water full of algae, dirt and droppings … unless nothing else is available. Dirty water is not only unappealing to a chicken, it harbors bacteria and is a common source of disease transmission within the flock.
Supplying water to your flock can be accomplished through a variety of options. For example, there are poultry fountains, poultry nipples, plastic and galvanized steel vacuum drinkers, automatic watering systems, and a slew of creative DIY projects. To ensure that my free-ranging flock has an adequate amount of fresh, cool water, I have several waterers strategically placed under shade trees, as well as shaded spots within the run. I’ve found that my metal poultry fountains work best for my flock. The advantages of this type of watering option is that the heavy-duty (double wall) galvanized steel will aid in keeping the water cooler. It’s also rust-proof and can be used with a heater in the winter. They can hold a large amount of water (2-8 gallons) with a constant water level maintained in the base pan by a vacuum action. One disadvantage to this type of watering option is that the container must be elevated to keep the chickens from scratching bedding and dirt into the water reservoir. It also needs to be placed on a level surface or the water will drain out unintentionally. Algae also seems to grow rather quickly in the base (especially during hot weather), and this can be an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. Keeping the waterer out of direct sunlight and cleaning the base routinely is a must. The container is supposedly designed to prevent roosting, but I frequently found my chickens using the top as a place to get the best view … and, of course, they poop into the water while they’re surveying the property.
Another simple option that I use are mason jar chick drinkers. The jars screw onto special bases and are inverted when filled with water, allowing the chicks to drink out of the base. I have plastic varieties of this waterer as well as actual glass mason jars with metal bases. Of course, these containers won’t hold an adequate amount of water for an entire flock, but scattered around my property they give my chickens several available watering spots. I also like the vintage look of these waterers as opposed to some of the newer options. Perhaps visitors to my house will focus on how cute the chickens are as they drink water from the antique jars … and not notice all the chicken poop I have on my sidewalk and deck thanks to my free-ranging flock!
So, is it actually hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk? Nope, at least not in Missouri … An egg needs a temperature of 158°F to become firm, and sidewalk temperatures at their highest usually only reach 145°F. Many other factors, such as sunlight, air temperature and the composition of the concrete, make cooking your egg on the pavement somewhat of a challenge. I actually gave it a shot, but after 20 minutes in full sun with an outside temperature of 102°F, I didn’t even have a poached egg … I might not have succeeded in my attempt to fry an egg outside, but residents of Oatman, Ariz., actually have an annual Solar Egg frying Contest on the Fourth of July each year. Contestants get 15 minutes to make an attempt using solar (sun) power alone. Oatman judges, however, do allow some aids, such as mirrors, aluminum reflectors or magnifying glasses, which would help to focus the heat onto the egg itself. It turns out that eggs also have a bit of an advantage in Arizona, the land of low humidity and high heat. Liquids evaporate rapidly when humidity is low. The eggs have a bit of “help” while they cook, and they dry out faster.