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Surviving the QLD Heat Wave(s)

I’ve always said that I’d rather be cold than hot. I have had plenty of opportunity to test this theory during the recent heat wave in QLD (over Christmas and New Years, its been a little overshadowed now that southern states are experiencing their own heatwave, but to be honest, it hasn't really cooled down here either). Yep, definitely still don’t like being hot, although my tolerance is improving, 35degC now feels mild after the temperatures we experienced over Christmas and New Year (while bloggers in the US were writting about suffering through a polar blast). Fortunately we did not reach the highs achieved further west or down south (over 45degC in places), but we did get above 40degC on several days, which is plenty hot enough.

Each day of summer, no matter how hot it is, we force ourselves to put on our jeans, boots and long sleeves and venture outside to tend to animals, although we do try to spend the hottest part of the afternoon inside, waiting for the sun to go down. The only thing worse than suffering through a heatwave yourself, is watching your animals suffer. Most of our animals do not appreciate attempts to cool them down, even Cheryl hasn’t realized that when I put her in a bath of cold water I am actually trying to help her to stop panting like a steam train (we call her “puffing billy” on hot days), and Donald the bull was not amused when I threw a bucket of water over him around midday on one particular scorcher. We were lucky that we only lost one hen out of our entire menagerie, the consequences of this heat could have been far worse (although it is ongoing, so I shouldn't speak too soon). Here are some thoughts about helping the homestead to survive a heat wave.

The Vegetable Garden
I was expecting dry weather (although not quite so hot), so I had already prepared the garden with layers of compost, manure and mulch, this helps the soil to retain water. We have shade cloth over the entire garden, and usually I encourage extra shade by growing beans and other climbers up the fence, but this year they haven’t got established in time to provide much shade. I water the garden as soon as it cools down a little and the sun is off the garden, around 4pm, with a fine mist, to try to reduce the air temperature. I go out later, around 6pm, to give the garden a soaking and hope that it will recover overnight. Particularly delicate plants have their own upturned beer bottle to try to maintain moisture around the plant through the day. If you can just keep everything alive, it will regrow when temperatures improve.

The Chickens
Don’t expect many eggs through a hot spell! Just make sure everyone has plenty of cool water and access to shade. I let all the chickens out, even the naughty ones (broody or egg-eating), so that they can find their own shady spot. The only problem is young roosters, as we notice that they tend to chase hens until they are worn out (probably why that one hen died). Best to keep the young roosters separate so the hens get a break. At Eight Acres, the favourite place to be is in the dirt under the veranda, the chickens have made their own holes under there and Cheryl the dog lies there with them too. Another tactic that we use is to feed cool fruit or vegetables to chickens later in the afternoon, juicy options such as tomatoes or watermelon being particularly effective.

During the heatwave we were also running our incubator and have had a terrible hatch rate as the incubator was frequently running too hot. Incubators are not designed to run at such high ambient temperatures, and they do not control temperature effectively when he outside temperature is so close to the intended incubator temperature. We weren’t expecting a heatwave, but in future, we will avoid incubating at this time of year.

The Cattle
Again, cattle need access to fresh water and shade. It is heartbreaking to see a paddock with a single tree and 20 cattle trying to all stand under it in the heat of the day. If you don’t have sufficient trees, you need to provide some other form of shade structure so that all your cattle can get under it.

The Dogs
Cheryl likes to take a dip in the dam on a hot day, but its a long walk for her to the back of the property, so often I put her in the bath (which, according to Cheryl, is not the same thing at all). I also pour buckets of water over her, no wonder she likes Pete the best. I have tried her with frozen bottles of water and wet towels, but she thinks I am mad and will not lie near them.

The Kitchen
The homestead kitchen is full of living things too! If you find that your sourdough starter or kefir or any other ferment is going crazy at these temperatures, put it in the fridge until the heatwave is over. However, I did make one of my better loaves of bread, seems to really get the yeast going! Any natural beauty products should go in the fridge too if you haven’t used any preservatives.

Also note that the hottest day is not the day to decide to render that last batch of fat in the freezer.  It took me a while to realise that I could set up the slow cooker outside instead, the smell was quite overpowering when we had all the windows shut and air con on.

A note about airconditioning and house design
It is my belief that airconditioning should not be necessary in a well-designed passively cooled house, even during a heatwave, however, our house at Eight Acres is anything but well-designed! It is a small hardiplank box that heats up in the afternoon and stays hot all night. It is horribly uncomfortable without airconditioning on any day above 35degC, so we run the airconditioning a few days each year. Our new old house at Cheslyn Rise has been positioned to take advantage of passive cooling and wind currents, and even though we are yet to put insulation in the roof cavity or fit any window coverings to reduce radiation, it was much more comfortable during the heatwave (although we couldn’t stay there because all our animals that needed attention were at Eight Acres!). If you are stuck in a badly designed house, there is not a huge amount you can do without major alterations (we have doors and windows all in the wrong place), although you can consider fitting window screens and increasing insulation in roof and walls. Unfortunately, a house that is cheap to build is often more expensive to run, so its best to spend the money on designing the house to reduce future running costs.

our grass after 6 weeks with no rain and intense temperatures
Any tips for surviving extra hot and dry weather?

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  1. When it hit 47:5 degrees on our veranda, I decided this is really getting ridiculus. Spend a good part of the day, refilling bird baths around the garden. To be rewarded with a huge influx of parrots, magpies etc to the garden. Was great to watch the comings and goings, but still wish it wasn't so hot for them. We are heading back into the 40 plus degrees next week. Still many fires burning around us. The garden will survive, it always seems to bounce back.

  2. We lost one of our hens in the last heat wave even though we kept the water up to them and they had plenty of shade. We even ran the sprinkler over their pen. She was in the nesting box laying an egg poor girl. The only thing surviving in our vegie patch are sweet potatoes. They seem to love hot and dry. I hope the next couple of days are OK for you. They're predicting more heat. Even better, I hope we all get some rain soon.

  3. Sometimes it is great to have a job to go to where the aircon runs at their expense! I was away and the garden was a bit over-run with weeds when I returned, but it actually worked to shade the ground and keep the moisture in. I think I missed the worst of the high temperatures luckily.

  4. I always feel sorry for people that live up North - even in Winter the temperatures never really seem to drop. I remember going to Brisbane in July one time and hating every moment of it. Temperatures in the mid 20s really messed by body temperature gauge around (hubby loved it, though!).

    I try not to run air conditioning here (even during the heat wave). We have a brick veneer house that faces North/South so it's not as bad as it could be. I do put fans on, especially once the sun goes down and we open up all the doors and windows to try to at least get rid of some of the heat. It manages to stay around 10 degrees cooler than outside, but when outside is 45...well, 35 is still darn hot!!

    I hope the weather cools down (as much as it can) for you soon!

    - Christine

  5. Well gosh I must be a real sissy because I simply cannot handle this sort of heat without the AC on all day long, and forget about shoes and long sleeves. I admire you for taking care of your animals so well. Where I live now in Oregon, U.S. it doesn't get too hot, but I just moved here from Oklahoma (central U.S.) where the summers get up to 105-110F from July through September. The days are like being in an oven.

  6. Oh it's hot here as well :( We are lucky enough to have a pool, so we spend a lot of time hanging out in that when the temperatures start to soar. I think the garden might be starting to feel it though.

  7. During the Melbourne heatwave last week, we had our evaporative cooling on non-stop! I was thankful it was the first thing we did when we moved into this place! Back in the day we lived in a brick terrace, we used to run fans on us at night and I would sleep with a damp face washer on my neck. I used to freeze bottles of water (1.25L) to give to my rabbits on hot days. They would lay on them and lick the drips off. Stay cool!

  8. wow great tips! we have a huge, deep stock tank that we put out for everyone. the dogs like to stand in it. and then we also use one of the kiddie swimming pools for the dogs also. our best tip tho is to run the sprinkler in the hen yard. it provides a cool spot while its working (the ducks love to stand in it) then when you turn it off the hennies run over to where the grass is cool and wet. plus they can find worms.
    stay cool!

  9. Very hot here in NSW as well. Our house is a 1930's style house that gets very hot like yours does. We have put insulation in the roof which has helped a fair bit. I hate having the air con on and usually leave it till I can't stand the heat anymore. Our grass looks exactly like yours:)

  10. Isn't it awful trying to survive a heat wave?! Life just comes to a standstill as we try to get by. We live where it got to 45c in one of those badly designed homes. Somehow we managed without the air con on all but the last of five hot days but it was VERY uncomfortable! I managed no chook/animal losses but we lost a few plants. Bring on Autumn, I say!!

  11. I have the garden on drip irrigation and have a mister hose set up for the chickens on 100+F days here in Texas.

  12. thanks for all the extra tips and support everyone, can't wait for summer to end (but bring some rain first please!!!)


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