At the time of this writing, my urban farm has the following animals: 12 goats, 40+ chickens, 8 ducks, 2 pigs, 2 dogs, and a beehive. Oh, and 4 baby turkeys that my husband came home with last week. Don’t ask. And also at the time of this writing, my Zone 8b area is experiencing high summer temperatures that began unusually early, as well as below-average rainfall. So, suffice to say that my task of keeping my animals cool and hydrated in the heat is a fairly huge one.
When you have animals, whether they are house pets or farm animals, it’s up to you to make sure they are well cared for and to protect them as best you’re able. Here are my tips and tricks for keeping my animals healthy — I hope they help you in your summer animal care!
Dogs: Aside from bringing them indoors when the heat is scorching (we’ve had 103 here recently), we have two automatic watering bowls that hook up to water spigots — one up by the house, and another towards the back of the property. We ordered them online a couple of years ago, and they are still working beautifully. There’s also abundant shade for them to relax and take a break.
Chickens & ducks: It’s imperative for poultry to have access to clean water. They are able to drink from the dogs’ automatic watering bowl at the back of the property, and we also have a big stock tank pond that doubles as a bath and a water fountain (we just have to make sure it’s emptied and refilled with clean water regularly). On really hot days, I freeze veggies (peas, corn) in water in muffin tins, then I break out the frozen veggie muffins for the chickens and ducks to peck at. It keeps them cool and busy as they peck their way to the treats within. Inside the coop, it’s extremely important to have proper air ventilation so chickens don’t develop respiratory problems. Build your coop to take advantage of cross breezes and wind directions, which will cool things down considerably.
Goats: Our goats also access the back automatic waterer, and they’ll sometimes drink out of the duck/chicken stock tank pond. They also have access to several shady areas at different points around the property — this is really important because it can feel 10-15 degrees cooler in the shade. When we have baby goats, as we do right now, we put moms and new babies in a large private pen for the first week or so in order for them to bond. It’s in a shady area under a big oak tree, and we have a water spigot in there so they have a constant supply of cool water. On days when it’s super hot and the air feels stagnant without a breeze, my husband hooks up a box fan on the outside of the pen’s fencing to get some air moving for them. And, although we haven’t done this yet, it’s possible to set up a misting stand with your garden hose in front of the box fan — it’s a great way to cool that fan air down quite a bit.
Pigs: Our pigs are pot-bellies, and because of their smaller size and inflexible necks, they can’t drink from the automatic watering bowl like the other animals do. (Correction: our pig, Percy, has learned how to hit the bowl with his snout to knock water out of the bowl. Pretty impressive.) To give them consistent access to cool water, we buy two kid-sized plastic wading pools every summer, fill them up, and watch Olive and Percy step in and roll around. It cools them off and provides us with a ton of video footage to post on Facebook. But it’s also life-saving — pigs don’t sweat, and because of this, they have a very difficult time cooling off. And here’s a side benefit to the wading pools: the water sloshes over the edges, creating mud around the perimeter of the pool. Ever heard the expression “happy as a pig in mud?” Rolling around in the mud puddles is another way Olive and Percy keep their cool. Tip: If you don’t want to buy new plastic pools every year, buy a smaller sized galvanized stock tank instead. Our girl Olive loves to step into it for a quick cool-down.
Bees: Our beehive kind of goes on auto-pilot, but they need water, too. We often see the bees visiting the automatic watering bowls, and while that’s great, we have a small water feature close by their hive in the pollinator garden. It’s a simple set-up consisting of a small black pond form, filled with water and a solar-powered pond fountain to keep the water moving. When we’re feeling inspired, we’ve often included a few small water plants to keep things interesting.
Turkeys: Like I said, don’t ask. My husband is in the doghouse for bringing home baby turkeys without asking me — we know nothing about turkeys, and to be honest, don’t really need more animals or another project. For now, they are inside our house in the cool air conditioning and fresh water, but if they were outside, they would require the same watering systems the other poultry do. But really, everyone — can I get some sympathy for sharing my house with four turkeys? My only consolation is that I am married to a man who has a soft spot for animals — and in this world that often seems rushed and stressed, I consider myself lucky.
About the Author:
Jenny Peterson is a landscape designer and urban farmer living in Austin, Texas. She comes from a family of gardeners and her gardens include drought-tolerant plants, herbs, veggies, and a wildflower pollinator garden. As a breast cancer survivor, Jenny specializes in gardens that heal from the inside out.