So, some busybody has been creating vicious rumours about my Solway hen house. She says it causes hens to overheat and is not safe and the local poultry shop is refusing to sell it because of the news. What I say is – how come the prize-winning Solway (Innovation Award at the Royal Highland Show, 2009) has been discovered to have such a problem when it has been around for less than a year, and during that time the British Isles has enjoyed precisely one week of anything like warm weather?

It’s the plastic, the rumour-mongers insist. Not safe. Then I remember this is the sort of thing that has been said about the famous eglu – plastic doesn’t ‘breathe’ as well as wood. Damn it. With all the infestations of mite that attack British chickens these days, an easily-washed and smoothe plastic house is just the ticket. Especially if it is appeases one’s conscience as the Solway does because made of recycled plastic.

But now I’ve found a thread on the web that says researchers have discovered the Solway’s walls are actually better at adapting to extreme temperatures than many wooden houses’ – as long as they are not black (ours are green) they heat up under hot sun much less than had previously been assumed. There are loads of Solway imitations currently coming on the market – for this reason alone I am inclined to trust the research.

So – let’s take a step back and use our common sense. Could it possibly be that my critic is confusing the eglu (that has been around for nearly a decade) with the new-born Solway? Certainly you can find threads on Poultry forums that say the eglu overheats. And could it be that something is wrong in the design of the eglu (from which all this anti-plastic thing derives)? Does it poach its inhabitants because it is so cramped rather than because it is made of double-walled plastic? It’s all very well having a compact space-ship in which to keep a couple of chooks on the lawn, but maybe it shouldn’t be quite SO compact. As everyone knows who has ever slept in a bed with one or more companions, the more snuggled up you are the hotter you get.

Then again, you’d have thought that unlike Homo Sapiens, Jungle fowl (from which Gallus gallus domesticus derives) would like a hot atmosphere; just like hanging out in their original tropical forest.  You’d have thought that a bird with a body temperature of 41 degrees could handle ambient temperatures in the 20’s. In fact, battery farms get heated to 22 degrees and above precisely because this is considered good for the chooks.

The main thing, as every battery farmer knows, is to make sure there is air circulating around the 41 degree birds. That’s a major reason why the battery chicken gets a wire-bottomed cage (another one being that mite have nowhere to hide). These ‘enriched’ cages scheduled for arrival in the UK by 2012 (EU ruling, didn’t you know) have solid floors and are going to cause no end of problems. Not that I think cage incarceration is a kind way for a chicken to spend her life, just that the guys who invented the system did spend a lot of time and effort getting it right – minimum mortality means maximum productivity.

In the Solway the three happy chooks sit up on a well-raised perch, with the domed ceiling soaring high above. There is room in the house for a dust bath and a suspended nesting box. The fresh air coming in through the ventilation dial gets loads of space to circulate.

Those of us who keep hens tend far too easily towards bucolic sentimentality. To prefer wood is all part of a taste for things natural and organic and generally quaint.  In contrast, a hen has no such sentiments. To her, whether her walls are wooden or plastic is perfectly irrelevant. It’s old-fashioned fresh air she’s interested in.

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