I'm hearing from a lot of breeders that this has been a particularly challenging season in terms of egg fertility, and loss of breeding stock from heatstroke. The bushfires and severe temperatures in Australia have been worldwide news.
We have just had 2 days in excess of 47C on the farm, and it's been a full time job trying to keep everything alive. On the worst day in history here last week (48.9C), I moved many of our breeding stock, boxed up, into our garage, with the portable air conditioner on. Rather a lot of work in that temperature!
A few tips for avoiding heatstroke losses, that I've picked up along the way:.
1) Chooks won't drink hot water. On hot days, change the water frequently.
2) Adding an electrolyte like AviLyte liquid to the drinking water, can reduce losses.
3) We freeze 2-4L ice cream containers and float them in the drinking water. These take longer to thaw, than just adding smaller iceblocks like party ice.
4) Avoid feeding chickens in very hot weather - the digestive process just creates more body heat. Some people feed cold watermelon to their chooks on very hot days. I find that the sugar surge they get leaves them more prone to heatstroke shortly after ingesting it.
5) Allow enough pen room for hot birds to move away from each other.
6) Any bird showing respiratory distress should be brought into airconditioning before it reaches the point of collapse. Electrolytes can be administered directly with a syringe. Keep them separate for several days & keep up the electrolytes until recovered.
7) If the chance of our penned birds dying from heatstroke, is greater than that of being killed by daytime predators (foxes, eagles, next door's bloody dogs), I let them all out to find their preferred coolest spot.
8) Wet loose soil with a hose, for them to sandbathe in.
9) Provide water in shallow dishes like cat litter trays. They'll stand in cool water, to lose heat via their feet and legs.
What on earth is going on with egg fertility???
The last few hatches have been pretty poor. Infertile eggs, blood rings, and a higher than usual proportion of late deaths-in-shell and weak chicks. I put this down to:
1) Reduced feed quality. Drought affected grains just don't have the same nutrient levels, even if using premium foods. We have been sporadically adding liquid vitamins to the drinking water this season.
2) The extreme heat means that eggs "false-start" incubation during the heat of the day. They really need to be collected and brought inside into a cool room for storage, before they start to incubate outdoors.
3) I don't believe our chooks are feeling super-amorous in this heat and smoke, it could be that they're just not in the mood.