and Henemoa (front) are with Amelia, Alice |
and Victoria (obscured) at the freshly refilled drink
dispenser. Vanessa is tilting her head back to swallow.
Chooks are certainly great drinkers, especially when the weather warms. They’ll cluster around the water dispenser like blokes around the beer before six o’clock closing at the Public Bar. God forbid that there be an even slightly inadequate quantity of the wet stuff.
In my experience, chickens are far from picky about the purity of their vittles and drink, but particularly enjoy helping themselves from a natural platter. It’s much more fun to scratch and peck at the ground for food than to eat nutritionally formulated pellets out of a receptacle that’s raised, hygienically, off the ground.
Alice the Australorp (above)
goes for drops spilt by others,
while Emmeline drinks from
underneath the dispenser.
My last flock, I’m ashamed to say, had a water bucket that cultivated algae of an interesting hue (it also drowned the occasional sparrow). Those chooks drank dirty water more often than not — i.e. when it was the only sort I made available — and I think it’s no coincidence that their poop was far less impressive in appearance than what my present pets produce.
Manure may not make a chicken as “manners maketh man”, but it can indicate its health. My last lot squirted out ... well, I won’t go into details. They’re dead, and it was a long time ago.
I’ve learned a lot about hens since then. I am conscious now that just as in wartime “careless talk costs lives”, so (at any time) dirty water spreads disease — How to Care for Your Poultry, the excellent book jointly authored by New Zealand Lifestyle Block magazine’s editor and hen expert, tells me so. It has no fewer than five index references to water requirements, and the number-one question in the poultry management chapter relates to water: “Would you drink the water in your hen house?” it asks, pointing the finger as severely as the military man in the recruitment poster that reads, “Your country needs YOU.”
Thus motivated, I declare war on Bertie Germ in my backyard, scrubbing out the chickens’ water dispensers and refilling them about once a day. I’d be reluctant to drink from the dispenser when the girls have just been scratching up a storm and flinging dirt everywhere, but on the whole I can answer the good book’s question in the affirmative. The present contingent in my coop have clean water “on tap”, and that’s what they drink (unless they can get what’s fallen from the sky, or mucky stuff they find on the ground).
|Victoria the Araucana, like most hens, isn’t big on beak |
hygiene. Here she gets down and dirty in a search
for worms and other delicacies.
The attention I devote to chicken poop may be similar to, but more insightful than, that of doctors to King George’s porphyria-blighted (blue) emissions in the Royal Chamber Pot, some 200 years ago. Or perhaps I am the poultry equivalent of the Plunket nurse who analyses everything about her charges, even their excrement.
I see myself channelling the Plunket Society’s famous founder, Dr Sir Frederic Truby King, to help the hens and save the eggs. I try to administer food as the doctor ordered, at about the same time every day. Fortunately I don’t expect of my hens the perfectly timed bowel motions that he specified for human babies, or I might require committal to the modern equivalent of another institution in which King had a leading role — the Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. Chooks follow the call of nature rather than any clock: they just poop and poop and poop, and there’s no stopping them.
Am I over-conscientious? I don’t think so. Many things can harm a chicken. Looking at what it’s chucked out its rubbish chute gives me the opportunity to see warning signs and act on them before it’s too late. How to Care for Your Poultry describes droppings, healthy and otherwise. Paying attention to these beats the post-mortem examination on which the book also advises readers under the heading “CSI Henhouse”. The latter involves poring over the poor creature’s entrails like a holy man, but one informed by science — anatomy, physiology, pathology.
|The first half-dozen eggs this |
spring once everyone began laying.
Last Words on Water
- keep it clean, and keep it coming;
- chickens need to be able to drink often;
- lack of water kills more quickly than lack of food;
- double the quantity of water is needed in summer;
- laying hens drink twice as much as non-layers;
- by providing food and water in more than one place at a time, you can outsmart the pecking order and enable each hen to get her share.