Keeping Chickens Cool: Help Your Chickens Beat the Heat

Summer is officially upon us! This crowd-favorite season means outdoor activities galore, and with some easy planning for us humans, we can manage the heat with cooler, lighter clothing, hydration and shade…but what about our feathered friends? Here’s what to do when keeping chickens cool?

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:

• Water

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.

• Shade

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.

• Ventilation

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.

• Treats

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.

Keeping Your Chickens Cool This Summer

Summer is an exciting time for your chickens, they likely have more freedom than the winter months and enjoy exploring in the warmer weather. But it can also be a time where vigilance is key as a chicken owner. The extreme temps can take a toll quickly on your feathered friends, so taking proper heat precautions is extremely important. Here are a few tips to make sure your chickens have a comfortable summer.

Signs of Heatstroke

  • Lethargic and not actively moving around.
  • Open beaks with wings spread out. The birds look similar to a dog that is panting.
  • Little or no intake of food and water.

Water

  • Make sure your chickens always have fresh and clean water. It is a good idea to give fresh water at least every 24 hours. Stagnant and dirty water attracts mosquitos and acts as a petri dish for holding diseases. Old and lukewarm water will not be appealing to your birds and it will cause them to stop drinking, which can lead to lower egg production, forced molt, dehydration and possibly death.
  • It is a good idea to put ice in your watering system. Chickens may stop consuming water if the temperature of the water rises above 55 degrees Fahrenheit.

Shade/Coop Ventilation

  • Have your coop in an area that is covered and protects the flock from the sun.
  • Make sure the coop has several open windows that allow air to flow through the structure. Windows can be added to the coop by cutting holes in the sides of the structure and covering the holes with hardware cloth. The hardware cloth should keep predators out of the coop, but it will allow more air circulation and ventilation for the birds.
  • Consider letting your flock free range in the summer. Free range chickens can have more opportunities to find shade and cool off in dust bathing areas. There are certainly risks involved in letting your chickens free range, but it can be a great option for keeping them cool in the summer time.

Treats

  • Melons and squash are great treats for the summer.
  • Chickens love watermelon as a treat and it naturally increases water intake, since watermelon is about 91% water.

AC for the Flock

  • You can freeze gallon jugs of water and place them in and around your coop. The jugs of water can lower the temperature in the coop and perform as a makeshift air conditioner.
  • A small baby pool gives chickens the option to cool off in the summer time. (You only need to fill the pool with a few inches of water).
  • Purchase a mister attachment for your hose. The mister attachment can reduce the body temperature of your birds as well as the ground temperature around the coop.
  • Consider placing fans in and around the coop. There are battery and electrical powered fans available at your local hardware store (make sure the fans are not close to any water, as this can potentially be a fire hazard).