The dog days of summer are here. In Maryland, we have the bonus of humidity. Fortunately for the chicks, who are now 3 1/2 months old, their run is covered, offering them a generous amount of shade, and they have ample ventilation in their coop from the windows and copula, but it is still darn hot. Today the high reached 97 degrees where we live with a heat index well into the low 100’s. Honey bees hang out of their hives to reduce congestion inside, providing their own air conditioning by fanning their wings inside, but what about the chickens?
My girls have found their own ways to beat this heat. They thoroughly enjoy roaming around the yard and this provides a bit of a reprieve from the heat because they can duck into shaded areas with the bonus of finding bugs or even berries beneath bramble bushes. They also dust bathe, sit on the perches to catch breezes and just relax, out of the sun.
I have found a number of ways to help them cool off. They love sipping iced water which they seem to really enjoy as the ice melts and they peck at the ice chips and drink the cold water, lifting their necks up high as the cold water trickles down their throats. It’s fun to watch them. They delight in offerings of melons, relishing the sweetness and the extra liquid as we do on hot days. I’ve even given them some leftover homemade butternut squash soup, served cold from the refrigerator as a special treat. Another favorite is shredded frozen zucchini or cucumbers which are in abundance this time of year, particularly the ones that get away and go from pollinated nubs to giant behemoths seemingly overnight. I used to toss those into the compost pile but now I shred them, freeze them in baggies and serve them, barely thawed to the girls who savor each cold morsel.
They particularly like sampling herbs or cucumber bits frozen into ice cubes, pecking away at the frozen treats buried within the ice. I grow a lot of herbs and this has been a fun way to put some to use. I clip thyme, basil, oregano, anise hyssop, lavender, borage, parsley, tarragon and lemon balm and tuck small pieces into ice cube trays, fill with water, freeze and then dump into a bowl. They now run to me when they hear ice cubes coming out of the trays and landing in their dish.
They transitioned to grower food and will soon move onto layer food as we near the magical days of egg laying. We have turned over their nesting box bins and added plastic eggs for their reference, a bit early, but prepared nonetheless.
The garden is in full swing now too: fat, large tomatoes waiting on the sun to color them red; bush beans chocked full for the taking; cucumbers galore as I added more seeds when I didn’t see them take and then boom, they all seemed to sprout; herbs and flowers aplenty. My pollinators are happy as I watch the blooms teaming with honey bee and native bee life.
An important part of maintaining my garden is picking bugs. While not glamourous by any accounts, it is essential to keeping pests in check and quite honestly, it’s something I enjoy as surprising as that may sound. I get into a bit of a zen state, searching for bugs to drop into my bottle. What has made this even more enjoyable for me this year is the fact that I can feed my bounty of bugs to the hens. I call out, “bugs!” and they come running, which in and of itself is a funny thing to watch as they scramble to get back to the run, often flying part of the way and pushing and shoving like a Black Friday Sale in full effect. I use an old Gatorade bottle that I fill with an inch or so of water. The bugs swim in it while I collect them, then I pour them out into the run and the girls just about lose their minds as the bugs get tipped into the run, stagger around, still alive but barely, not able to really fly any longer, making them ripe for the picking. The girls demolish Japanese beetles, squash bugs, and anything else not beneficial to my garden that arrives via this method making my integrated pest management that much more manageable.