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.

Vacation Time – Keeping Chickens Safe & Healthy When Away

Caring for chickens and enjoying their beauty and eggs are part of a healthy lifestyle yet it comes with everyday responsibility. Every once in a while, a flock owner needs a vacation or weekend getaway. Ensuring that the flock is safe while its owner is gone can be challenging. There are solutions.

Many aspects of chicken care must be done daily. These include filling waterers and feeders, opening the pop hole each morning and closing it at dusk, and collecting eggs. Other tasks include fending off a predator, keeping bird’s safe during extreme weather and, rarely, caring for a sick or injured chicken,

FRIENDS, FAMILY AND NEIGHBORS

Nothing beats having friends, family or neighbors as temporary chicken caregivers.   Few people have ever tended chickens. While they may be eager to fill in, they likely need training and coaching.  A wise flockowner lines up substitute caregivers well before the vacation so there is plenty of time to train the sub. Having a few volunteers ready to fill in is invaluable should an unexpected trip come up at short notice.

A trusty substitute should be comfortable around the flock and know what needs to be done and where supplies are. Here are a few tips.

  • Leave a cell phone number and other contact information in case the sub needs to be in touch.
  • Before leaving fill all waterers and feeders.
  • Post in the coop in a plastic sleeve to keep it clean a written list of daily tasks.
  • Have plenty of extra feed in storage near the coop so the caretaker doesn’t have to buy any when you’re gone.
  • Welcome the caregiver to take eggs home to enjoy. Leave extra egg boxes handy to make carrying them easy.
  • Assure the caregiver that every once in a while, a chicken dies. Be sure he or she understands that this happens and is not his fault. Let the caregiver know how to dispose of a dead bird.There are ways to legally and safely dispose of a dead chicken. Burying is an option. Many communities allow homeowners to place dead animals in the trash if the body is placed in double or triple plastic bags. Check with your town’s sanitation department to learn the procedure. If it’s hot and trash collection won’t occur for several days it may be wise to triple bag and seal the dead hen and put her in a freezer until trash day.
  • Show the caregiver how to open and latch windows in case of severe weather.
  • Offer to care for their own chickens, pets, or home when they are away. If appropriate offer to pay them and bring them a small gift from the trip.

A WEEKEND GETAWAY

For a very short absence during mild weather it’s possible to set up a coop so the flock is fine without daily human attention. Having supplies on hand and the coop prepared for a couple of days absence makes leaving them untended possible even though it’s always best to have a substitute visit daily.

There are two possible problems in leaving hens without daily care. One is egg collection. Ideally eggs should be collected every day. When uncollected so many eggs can accumulate in the nest that some may break. Nests designed so eggs roll out for easy collection solve the problem. A second problem is opening and closing the pop hole. Solar or timer controlled devices can be purchased to automatically open and close the door at the proper time. Or, simply leave the hens inside for a couple of days.

Redundant waterers and feeders are important. Have at least two waterers in the coop just in case one leaks when you are gone.

Chickens should never be left untended if extreme cold or beastly heat are predicted.   Cold freezes drinking water and eggs, and chickens can die if left in a stifling coop without relief.

Everyone needs to get away once in a while. With a little preparation and good friends, the flock will be healthy and productive while its owner sits on a distant beach or enjoys a weekend in the mountains.

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).