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Help your Backyard Chickens Beat the Summer Heat



Did you know that chickens are far more equipped to handle cold than heat? And that the effects of heat on chickens is cumulative?

Did you know that a sudden increase in temperature is more dangerous than a gradual climb. And that temperatures between 55-75 are optimal, and anything higher than that starts to cause stress to chickens' bodies?

And humidity levels above 75% make things even harder on them.



Doing all you can to help your chickens stay cool in the summer isn't a matter of "spoiling" them, it can be a matter of life or death. Chickens can, and do, succumb to heat stress and exhaustion every summer.


Help your Backyard Chickens Beat the Summer Heat 


Chickens have a hard time cooling off, so everything you can do to help them is beneficial.

The have a far easier time keeping warm in the cold weather by fluffing up their feathers and trapping the air warmed by their bodies, than they do cooling their bodies.

The added blood flow to their combs, wattles and skin as your chickens attempt to cool off reduces the flow to their vital organs.


Using their Bodies to Cool Off

Chickens don't sweat. Instead they will hold their wings away from their bodies to allow air to flow under their wings.   They will also pant.

Their panting to keep cool increases their respiratory and heart rate and can lead to Acidosis, a potentially fatal condition.

Their combs and wattles act as radiators and allow heat to escape their bodies, as do their feet. The larger-combed breeds, such as Andalusians or Black-Faced White Spanish, are more heat-tolerant than other breeds.

Lighter-colored chickens also tolerate heat better than the dark breeds whose feathers absorb the sunlight.

But all breeds will be pretty uncomfortable in extreme heat - and chickens can actually die of heat stroke, so it is important to keep them as cool as possible.



Cold Water


Eggs are mostly water, so the process of laying an egg absorbs much of the water a chicken drinks. Fresh, clean water accessible to all your hens is first and foremost in importance.

I have switched to using large rubber tubs and also shallow dishes as waterers in the summer instead of the traditional waterers.

Not only are they easy to clean and refill, but it's very easy to add a block of ice to keep the water colder longer.

Chickens will overheat before they will drink warm water, so be sure to check their water often and replenish it with fresh, cool, clean water as needed.



Shade



Plenty of shade is mandatory in the run area or where ever your chickens spend their days.

There are several large pine trees shading our run, as well as shrubs and small bushes that I have planted to provide nice shady areas.

If you don't have bushes or shrubs in or around your rub, adding a tarp or shade cloth over part of the run is a good idea.  I prefer shade cloth like this one to a tarp because it still lets air through.

If you don't have natural vegetation, a small dog house or other covered structure will work just as well.

Note: If your coop is raised off the ground, the chickens will love to seek respite from the sun underneath in the summer and will likely take dust baths under there too! 

Water to Stand In

Our chickens love to stand in shallow dishes or pools of water and get their feet wet when its hot.

It provides instant cooling for them. Our chickens will stand right in the water tubs (maybe they see the ducks doing it and copy them?).


But if yours balk at the idea, try placing a stone or brick in the tub for them to stand on.

The brick will absorb the cold water and stay chilled to cool hot feet.


On really hot days, I will sometimes dunk each chicken's feet and legs in a pail of water or in the ducks' pool. Just their feet and legs - you don't want to dunk their entire body.

Wet feathers render them incapable of fluffing them up to allow the air to flow through. You might end up with a lot of angry, but cooler, hens !

Be sure to put out more water tubs than normal when it's hot so more hens can drink at once. It is so important that each member of the flock gets their share of cool water so they don't dehydrate.

I have a minimum of four large tubs and two shallow dishes full in the run at all times for my flock of 16 hens and 13 ducks.

Use Caution if you Use Nipple Waterers


Note about Nipple Waterers: I personally am not a fan of the nipple waterer. You know...the bucket or PVC pipe with the nipple attachments that the chickens have to poke with their beak to get water out of (think sort of like a large hamster or rabbit water bottle!) ...it's just not a natural way for a bird to drink. 

They don't nurse like other baby animals do. 

But anyway...



If you DO choose to use the nipple-style waterers, I highly recommend putting out tubs of water in addition, at least on really hot days. 

The nipple waterers don't allow the birds to dunk their heads or cool their feet. 
Dunking their heads in the water and cooling their wattles and combs immediately lowers their body temperature. 

I had no idea they did this, but in the summer our hens stand around in the tubs, periodically dunking their heads. 

They do know what's best and as long as you provide them the means, they will know how to cool themselves off.

Also: Nipple waterers should NEVER be used as the sole water source (winter or summer) when you raise ducks according to this study on the Metzer Farms blog.



Electrolytes in the Water

Vitamins & Electrolytes or plain Pedialyte added to their water in extreme heat can also help the chickens cope better in the heat.

Baking soda in a 2% ratio by itself can also be added in a pinch. Or you can make up your own Homemade Electrolytes.

Soft-shelled eggs can be common in times of high heat due to reduced feed intake and the ACV can help alleviate that. Apple cider vinegar added to the water can help with calcium absorption.

But limit the ACV to just a few times a week (and preferably on cooler days) since it increases pH levels, which can lead to acidosis.




Dust Bath Areas

Chickens love to take dust baths year round - that's how they stay clean and bug-free - but in the summer when it's hot, wriggling down into the cool dirt helps keep them cool as well.

So be sure you have an area available to them filled with nice loose dirt that they can dig and scratch in to keep cool.



More Free Range Time

Since predators generally aren't too active at the height of the afternoon when it's hottest, I try to let my chickens out to free range more. I figure they can find cool spots out in the yard better than in the confines of the run.

They'll naturally find their own spots to take dust baths while they're out ... usually the one place I don't want them to!



Open Air Nesting Boxes

Since the coop gets really hot in the middle of the day, the girls avoid laying in the nesting boxes last summer. I find eggs under bushes, behind things, anywhere they could find that was cooler.

Propping the nesting box top open if you have external nesting boxes can help to circulate air a bit, as will frozen water bottles in the nests. but often your chickens still won't want to sit in the coop to lay their eggs...

So I like to set up some open-air baskets and boxes and a chair with a cutout that held a large tub filled with soft bedding outside in sheltered part of the run -  and that was a big hit.

 The chickens lay almost exclusively outdoors in the baskets and boxes for most of the summer.



Good Air Flow and Ventilation in the Coop

It's important to keep the coop as cool as possible, especially at night, so windows that can be left open are important to create lots of ventilation. Since regular window screens aren't going to keep raccoon or weasels out, be sure you have 1/2" or 1/4" welded wire on all the windows and vents.




Skip the Scratch

Chickens eat a lot less in the summer than they do in the winter, so be sure that they are being fed a good quality layer feed.

 Scratch grains should never be given during the hot months, since digesting the grains actually warms up a chicken's body, making scratch a wonderful wintertime treat.

In the summer, not so much.

In extreme heat, feeding your  chickens very early in the morning and then again late in the day is also an option to allow them to eat during the period of coolest temperatures.


Chilled and Frozen Treats

Frozen watermelon is a great treat that hydrates as well as cools the chickens, as are frozen strawberries, blueberries, cucumber slices, bananas (try rolling the banana in honey and chopped nuts and then freezing), and peas.

I also freeze edible flowers, blueberries, strawberry tops, watermelon, peas, and other fruits and vegetables in ice cube trays and add a few to the water in the heat of the summer.




Cooling Herbs

Fresh herbs like peppermint, spearmint, lemon balm, cilantro and dill have cooling properties and can help reduce the chickens' body temperature, so adding crushed fresh mint leaves to their diet in the summer months can help as well.


DIY Air Conditioning and a Fan

A big problem in the summer when the temperatures hover around 100 degrees for several days is cooling down the coop at night.

In the summer in Virginia, our coop was often still in the 90's inside at dark, and the girls hated to go inside, even though we did have a fan blowing into the coop.

So I decided to rig up some "redneck" {no offense} air conditioning for them.

I froze water in gallon water and milk jugs, hung them from the roosts and then set up an oscillating fan outside the coop.

It was amazing how much that cooled the air inside the coop to make for more comfortable sleeping. I also laid some jugs on the floor of the coop so the chickens could perch on or next to them.




WARNING ABOUT MISTERS !!!  

Some people hook up misters in the run that provide a continuous mist of water.

Please take care using misters and be sure you are using them correctly.

The misters can often do more harm than good, making the air moist and potentially causing respiratory problems in your flock.

If your chicken are getting wet, that hampers them from regulating their own body temperature and they can literally overheat if they can't fluff their feathers away from their bodies.

I can't recommend using them at all in humid climates where added moisture in the air can be detrimental.

Pools of standing water caused by the misters will also attract flies and mosquitoes which bring a whole new set of problems.

Misters when used correctly can lower the air temperature, but use caution if you decide to install a misting system.
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It's really important to keep your chickens cool this summer.

Anything you can think of to help them stay cool may not only save their lives, but will result in consistent egg production through the summer and will definitely be appreciated by your chickens.

Shade, clean cool water, and frozen treats are a great start towards beating the heat.


Recognizing and Treating Heat Exhaustion

Classic signs of heat exhaustion are excessive panting, a very pale comb and wattles, standing with eyes closed, unsteady on their feet, and  maybe even lying down.

If you do have a hen that seems to be suffering heat exhaustion or dehydration, get her somewhere cool and soak her feet and legs in a tub of cool water to bring her body temperature down.

Give her cool water to drink and some electrolytes, plain Pedialyte or even Gatorade in a pinch for added nutrients to replace what she has lost.


For tips on keeping your ducks cool this summer, click HERE.

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