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Honey for Heat Stress in Chickens

Studies have shown that honey can help alleviate heat stress in chickens.

Heat is very hard on poultry, chickens especially, so it's important to do what you can to help alleviate the stress on their bodies when the temperatures rise.

Since chickens don't sweat, and they have rapid metabolism and high body temperatures, heat and humidity can quickly get the best of them. 

Rising temperatures put stress on their bodily functions as they struggle to maintain their body temperature. And since they don't have sweat glands, they can't sweat to cool down like mammals and humans do. 

Honey for Heat Stress in Chickens

Electrolytes, cool water and shade are the basic ways to keep chickens, and any type of animal or livestock, cool in the summer. 

But studies have shown that raw honey can also play a big part in keeping chickens cool and avoiding heat stress. 

Heat exhaustion, which can lead to death, is pretty common in poultry. So it's important to be able to recognize the signs of heat stress, do your best to avoid the stress in the first place, about most importantly, know how to alleviate and treat it.

Recognizing Heat Stress in Chickens

Signs of heat stress include:

  • Panting and open-mouth breathing 
  • Wings held out from the body
  • Lethargic movements and looking "droopy"
  • Standing with eyes closed
  • Increased water consumption
  • Decreased appetite
  • Loose, runny poop
  • Pale wattles and comb
  • Reduced egg production

And by "heat", we're generally talking once the temperatures go above around 70 or 74 degrees, especially in humid climates. 

Chickens are far more comfortable in cooler climates, and keeping them cool when the temperatures climb upwards of 90 degrees could be a matter of life and death.

Treating Heat Stress in Chickens

Of course providing your chicken cool water and shade is of utmost importance. Adding electrolytes to the water can do wonders. 

Pro Tip: If you think a chicken is suffering from heat stress, setting her feet in a tub of cool water is the quickest way to bring her body temperature down.

And interestingly, enough, studies have been done on raw honey, showing its importance in helping to alleviate heat stress in animals, specifically chickens.

Studies on Adding Honey for Heat Stress in Chickens

Recently, I have been doing a deep dive into studies on using honey to combat heat stress in chicken flocks. 

I found a study that was done on rabbits, who also have trouble in the heat, proving that giving them honey and cool water in a ratio of 20ml/l was beneficial and resulted in increased body weight, performance, feed consumption and reduced body temperature and respiratory rate.

But there are also several studies done on poultry. 

study done in Nigeria, using 10ml/l of honey in cool water, showed improved egg quality and survival rates in laying hens in warm temperatures.  The study recommended adding the honey daily for 4 weeks, then giving plain water for 2 weeks. A similar study also showed that adding 20ml/l reduced panting and respiratory rates in chickens.

A study done on broiler chickens concurred with the findings that 20ml/l can help to alleviate the negative effects of heat stress on poultry, acts as an antioxidant, and also helps to strengthen their legs and bones.

And this study corroborated the findings about bone strength, nothing that adding honey to the chickens' drinking water led to more dense leg bones with higher calcium levels, and confirmed that panting and heart rates were reduced in birds drinking water with honey added to it.

It's pretty clear that there are multiple benefits to adding honey to your flock's drinking water in the summer. Raw makuna honey has the most nutrients, so that's the best choice. But in a pinch, use what you have.

Benefits of adding honey to your flock's water:

  • Decreased respiration
  • Decreased heart rate
  • Reduced panting
  • Works as antioxidant
  • Better calcium absorption
  • Stronger bones and legs
Optimal dose equals 20 milliliters per liter of water

And for ease of measuring for those of us in the United States, a liter is about 4 1/4 cups and a milliliter is a little less than a 1/4 teaspoon.

So add 4 to 5 teaspoons of raw honey to a quart of cool water or
about 1/3 cup per gallon of water

Stir the mixture to incorporate the honey well, then offer it to your chickens during a heatwave for a maximum of 4 weeks - then take a 2 week break - and repeat as necessary. 

Additional Health Benefits of Honey

In addition to its efficiency in treating heat stress in chickens, honey also can help with other types of stress including hatching and/or shipping stress, or wounds/predator attacks. And honey provides other health benefits to chickens (and humans too!).

  • Antibacterial
  • Anti-oxidant
  • Anti-inflammatory
  • Source of Vitamin C
  • Source of Vitamin E
  • Source of magnesium, phosphorus, and potassium
  • Improves heart health
  • Improves brain function

And in case you were wondering if your chickens will actually drink the honey water, although chickens are able to taste the things they eat, they lack the "sweet" receptor, so they don't taste sweet foods like we do.

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