NEWFIELDS — Jeremiah Vernon expected to have some chicken casualties during last weekend’s extreme heat, but he never thought he’d be counting dead birds by the hundreds.
Vernon, owner of Vernon Family Farm, said chickens can survive with a body temperature of up to 106 degrees. He said the farm lost as many as 400 chickens as the heat index soared to nearly 110 degrees late Saturday afternoon.
The sweltering temperatures proved to be too much for the birds, which were raised for meat and were set to be processed on Monday.
“They were working hard to survive. It was a group effort not to die,” he said.
The chickens suffered from heat stroke shortly after 5 p.m., which Vernon said was the hottest part of the day.
And they weren’t the only ones, said Vernon, who said he’d heard that another farm in southern New Hampshire also lost 300 chickens.
Vernon’s farm, which processes about 700 chickens a week for retail and wholesale, estimates the financial loss to be about $7,000.
Vernon said this is the biggest loss his farm has suffered due to the heat since the farm began operating 10 years ago.
The chickens that died were kept in the field in what is known as a “chicken tractor,” which is a movable coop without a floor.
Vernon said steps were taken to try to keep the chickens cool, which included removing their feed in the morning to slow metabolism so they wouldn’t get as hot, putting electrolytes in their water, and spraying down the coops.
“We did everything we were supposed to do,” Vernon said.
“They were all stressed. Everybody was stressed. The chickens, the farm, everyone. This was not a good situation,” he said.
Since the deaths, Vernon said the farm has spent about $2,000 to buy generators and circulation fans to help prevent illness in the event of another summer heat wave.