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Management concerns in desert environments?

Discussion in 'Managing Your Flock' started by deborahca, Dec 31, 2013.

  1. deborahca

    deborahca In the Brooder

    I live in the Southern California High desert. Are there any management issues that are specific to very dry environments that wouldn't be covered in generic "caring for chickens" material? The things that occur to me off the top of my head are the following:
    • the dry air itself -- do they need access to bath water? Or are dust baths still the thing?
    • very hard ground sans grass -- pluses and minuses here, harder for predators to dig in, but will they abrade their feet trying to scratch in the caliche?
    • hot summers -- up to 105°F or so, but misters should cool effectively
    • mild winters, but sharp temperature drop at night

    What am I missing?

  2. donrae

    donrae Hopelessly Addicted Premium Member

    Jun 18, 2010
    Southern Oregon

    I've raised birds in the Oregon high desert, so some of the same concerns, just not as hot.

    No water for bathing, chickens don't water bathe. misters are fine for cooling. Lots of shade. You might consider turning up an area of dirt by hand to get started, a place for them to dust bathe and cool off in the fresh dirt.

    They won't hurt their feet scratching, that's mostly done with claws. I'll bet you'll never have a bird with overgrown claws, though [​IMG]

    I think keeping every one cool will be your main challenge. Shade and water are your friends.

    Aerial predators might be an issue? Esp if you free range and there's no natural cover for the birds to hide under. Might set up some artificial cover--pallets on cement blocks work well.

    If you plan to brood chicks in the warmer temps, you'll just have to play the heat lamp thing by ear. If ambient temp is 105, they really don't need a heat lamp at all.

    I think the very dry air is actually a plus in the colder temps--less humidity and chance of frostbite.

  3. StruckBy

    StruckBy Songster

    Apr 2, 2012
    Marcola, OR
    I had birds for 3 years in the high desert in NV...a truly nasty climate. 100+ (frequently 110+) for most of the summer, well below zero for much of the winter. A *good* year was 8-10" of rain, 6" was more common while we were there. Biggest thing is to provide shade and plenty of clean drinking water in the summer. Personally, I'd stay away from heavy-feathered breeds and heavy-weight breeds because they just don't handle the heat well & it's much easier to compensate for cold than heat. You'll find fewer problems with parasites and disease since the soil moisture is so low and the temps are so extreme you don't get easy transmission. Another bright point...it is MUCH easier to raise funny-feathered breeds like silkies, frizzles, and feather-footed breeds since they don't have to deal with rain & mud. Bad part...don't expect your birds to get much from foraging anywhere that isn't irrigated. There just aren't enough bugs/plants they'll eat in the desert to make much of a difference in your feed bill.
  4. wsmith

    wsmith Songster

    I am in Southern Colorado at nearly 6000 feet at the Eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains. Semi arid. Our largest natural shrubs on the property are Cholla cactus. (hate them by the way...)

    No bath water, dust bathing is in vogue all year round.
    No foot issues. They use their claws, which helps keep them short, but sometimes I still need to trim them.
    We usually don't get hotter than 100 F, and mine seek out the shade. Even when it is zero as a high they seek out the shade. Weird.
    We can get pretty brutal cold sometimes, but that is the exception. Mine do really well here.
  5. Bullitt

    Bullitt Songster

    Jan 16, 2012
    If I were a chicken I would get under cover also because it provides some protection from predators, particularly hawks.
  6. deborahca

    deborahca In the Brooder

    Heh, my husband is actually fond of cholla! I'm not planning on these guys doing any real foraging, maybe move their run onto the lawn once and a while for a treat, the coop and covered run will be straight on the caliche soil. Right now I'm looking at a fairly small run, but I can see I'm likely to want to expand that. If the run is on hard soil with no vegetation, etc. does that effect the size they will effectively use? I think I'll want to add some sand for dust baths, anything else (aside from shade)?
  7. wsmith

    wsmith Songster

    I'd just let them dig a depression and use the soil for their dust bathing.

  8. deborahca

    deborahca In the Brooder

    It takes a sledgehammer to make holes for planting... even a drill-powered auger is insufficient. Will they actually loosen that up?
  9. StruckBy

    StruckBy Songster

    Apr 2, 2012
    Marcola, OR
    My guess is that they will eventually but why not just give them some? Sand/dust is cheap after all (unless you buy chinchilla dust...that stuff was ridiculous!) We had caliche at our place in NV but it had 6-12" of sand on top of it (depending on where on the property you were). They seemed to make depressions in it when they decided to but it took a couple years.
  10. wsmith

    wsmith Songster

    They will, but it may take a while. They will seek out areas that are already loosened if they can find them.

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