If you’re a chicken, too much heat can spell trouble, especially on steamy summer days. But with the right care, owners can help their hens stay happy and productive through the season.
Why the Worry?
Put simply, it has a lot to do with feathers. When cold, chickens (and many birds) are the ultimate in resourceful heating. They fluff up their feathers, which traps air between the layers, creating an instant downy coat. In summer, there’s no way to strip down – and molt won’t happen until daylight decreases in the fall months.
Because chickens cannot sweat, it makes them much more susceptible to overheating. Chickens normally lose heat as warm blood flows through the comb, wattles and limbs, cools, and is returned to the body’s interior. Problems occur in extreme heat, when the chicken’s temperature (on average 102 – 103 degrees F) cannot be reduced by this method. Heat stroke, low egg productivity, or death can happen.
Heat Stroke Symptoms:
- Panting with wings spread to release extra heat
- Reduced feed intakes (can negatively impact egg production and overall health)
- Increased water intakes (can result in diarrhea)
Hot Weather Care Tips
A hydrated bird is able to regulate its temperature more efficiently – and keep its egg production up. An egg is almost 75% water – so keeping this nutrient available is essential for egg production. A fresh supply of cool, clean water is a necessity year-round, but especially in the heat of summer. Have more than one source of water, so chickens don’t have to move far or fight to get it.
Coops and runs should be partially shaded if possible. Keep the shaded area large enough so that birds aren’t huddling in a small space. Chickens without shade tend to stay inside, away from cooling breezes. If you have darker birds, they’ll need more shade to stay cool and reduce fading, since they don’t reflect sunlight like light birds. Conversely, white birds may take on a “brassy” appearance from having their feathers exposed to too much sun.
Proper ventilation is a must. It provides comfort by removing moisture, ammonia and other gases, and provides an exchange of air. Mesh-covered windows let air in and keep predators out. A wire mesh screen doors helps keep the coop cooler at night. Increase circulation with a fan.
• Dust Baths
Chickens love taking dust baths and working the cool dirt particles into their feathers. Soil, mulch and sand all work for dust bathing areas. If your chickens are confined, you can make a great dust bath for them by filling a large shallow container with your chosen material. Your chickens will be happier, cleaner and cooler if you provide a good dust bathing area for them.
Provide chilled or frozen summer treats. Create your own giant popsicle by floating fruit in a bowl of water and freezing. Chickens also love fresh fruits and veggies from the garden (who doesn’t?). As with all treats, don’t overdo it. Feed no more than 10% of the total diet in treats, and make sure a complete commercial ration is the main source of food. Avoid high starch grains, such as corn, which heat up a chicken’s body temperature during digestion.
• Low Stress
Keep stress levels down and avoid getting your birds all worked up. Give them plenty of room to stay calm, cool and quiet. No one wants to “play chase” or be held on a scorching day.