The temperature here has reached a blazing ninety one Fahrenheit in the Northeast, with oppressive humidity to match. It’s almost impossible to go outside without wilting.
Chickens cannot sweat like us, so hot weather can be seriously problematic for them.
Whilst they can acclimate to hot climates pretty well, they do not do well in sudden heatwaves- these are the dangerous for your birds.
We have previously mentioned ways to keep your hens cool during the summer.
Today we are going to look at chicken heat stroke and how you can keep your hens safe during these sudden heatwaves.
Chicken Heat Stress Symptoms and Effects
When the heat gets up above seventy five Fahrenheit, your birds begin to suffer.
Large breed birds and older hens will suffer the worst. They will hold their wings away from their body and they will start to pant with open beaks in order to lose heat.
When the heat hits ninety to ninety five Fahrenheit the birds are in danger of getting heat stroke. If the temperature reaches one hundred plus, heat prostration is very possible.
Since their combs, wattles and feet are the only body areas that can reduce their temperature, if the bird looks extremely distressed, standing her in a dish of cool water will help.
You can stand the bird in cool water up to its’ neck for a couple of minutes at a time.
Make sure they have access to plenty of cool water- each hen may drink up to three cups of water on a hot day. All the extra water can give them diarrhea, so be on the lookout for lethargy and dehydration.
It’s recommended to add electrolytes to their water as it will help to replace valuable nutrients. If you don’t have any chicken electrolytes on hand, Pedialyte will do.
Electrolyte solutions are relatively inexpensive so it’s a good idea to keep some in your chicken first aid kit. Personally, I put out four one gallon drinkers for around forty birds. At least one of those will contain electrolytes.
A brief note here on apple cider vinegar: Do not add apple cider vinegar to their water in times of high heat, it can dehydrate the chicken.
The water needs to be checked two or three times daily to ensure they aren’t running out.
A quick finger test will tell you if the water is too warm. If it is, change it out for cool water. Putting a frozen water bottle in also helps to keep it cooler for longer.
Here’s another tip for the drinkers if you have the plastic type. Take the drinkers in at night, fill one quarter full with water and put in the freezer overnight. In the morning top it off with fresh cold water.
It will remain cold for a longer period of time.
Note: Nipple type waterers can cause some problems when it is very hot, so make sure you also have standard drinkers available as well!
To keep their temperature down you can also provide frozen treats:
They will enjoy pecking at the cold fruit cubes and get cool too!
Fresh watermelon is also a cool and refreshing treat for those hot, humid summer days. Do not give them scratch or corn because it is slow to breakdown in digestion and will raise the body temperature of the hens.
They will dust bathe more frequently because it cools them down a little. It is at this time of year that the little ‘pot-holes’ they make become moon craters, so watch your ankles!
Egg production will suffer too. In times of extreme heat the ladies won’t lay as well. They don’t eat as much during hot weather, so as a consequence you will see a slight drop in laying. At temperatures over one hundred Fahrenheit, they will eat little and may stop laying completely, or the eggs may be mis-shapen or soft shelled.
If you don’t keep an eye on them, they can quickly reach the zone of heat prostration and will need to be cooled down. If the hen becomes unresponsive or has seizures you have to act to reduce the birds’ temperature quickly or she will likely die.
Check on them three or four times a day to ensure that all is well. Keep your interactions with them brief; try not to get moving around or expending energy.
It is essential to provide cool water for them and some shade. It is not an exaggeration to say that chickens can die from overheating, especially in areas of high humidity.
My girls have the luxury of a cool barn to retreat into, but what if you don’t have a cool place for them? Below we have gathered some ideas for you to help keep your hens shaded and cool in the hot days of summer.
Shrubs and Trees
Is there an area near your coop, or the coop itself that could benefit from a bit of instant landscaping?
Shrubs grow fairly quickly and while they may not be so helpful this year, next year you will have a ready made shade area for your ladies.
One enterprising idea I came across was building an arbor area out of cattle panels bent into an arch and planting vines that will eventually cover the panel and give shade. Be sure to plant vines that aren’t toxic to your hens.
Planting climbing vines against the run area works well. Last year my girls had a very shady area on the north end of the run where I had planted Black Eyed Susan vines.
It added a splash of color to the run, some well utilized shade and the girls even enjoyed eating the flowers!
If you have a small, mobile tractor type coop, can you move it into a shady area?
Painting small tractors and your coop a light color or white will help to deflect some of the heat from the inside too.
Most of the home improvement stores sell these, they are also known as sail cloths.
They are made from a knitted polyethylene fabric, which is slightly elastic in nature. There are several different sizes and colors. A good size cloth six feet by twenty feet will cost just under forty dollars.
You can fix the cloth onto your coop to provide a large shaded section.
They are sturdy and can be re-used for a few years if they are well cared for.
If you don’t have a run, you can rig up some sort of awning area by using the edge of the coop, fence line or even stringing a line between two points- much like an open ended tent.
The supports will need to be strong enough to resist moderate wind.
These are the good old homesteaders’ standby- tarps.
So many uses, including providing shade for your flock. It can be used in much the same way as shade cloth, but you really don’t have to remove them at the end of the year since they will keep some of the snow out of the run area.
If your run is large enough, you could put the tarp over the coop end and leave the far end open so that the birds’ can sit in the sun if they want to.
Please remember to put the water in the shaded end too. Nobody likes to drink hot water!
Another use was to put a reflective tarp on the roof of the coop. It will deflect the heat from the sun and reduce the temperature inside the coop.
If you are tree trimming, you can use the long branches as shade covers.
Try resting the branches against the side of the coop to form a lean-to or tent, using the limbs from pine trees work especially well since they fan out to provide a denser coverage.
If you only have bare tree limbs, place them so they form a shelter and cover with burlap.
The burlap can be pinned or nailed into place, it may not look terribly pretty, but it will be shaded for the hens.
If your hen house is situated out in the open with the sun beating on it all day, it will get pretty hot in there!
You can cool the outside by hosing down the exterior a couple of times a day. It can reduce the interior temperature considerably.
You can also provide the hens with a mister. Misting heads for hoses are inexpensive and provide a cooling mist for your ladies when they venture outside. It also helps to reduce the amount of dust created around the hen house.
If your water source is limited (a well) or you are paying by the gallon, you may want to mist in short bursts, say one hour of misting every two or three hours during the hottest part of the day.
Some folks will wet down the dirt in and around their dust bathing areas to get the soil good and wet. Bathing in damp soil will help them to get cool.
Although most chickens don’t like getting wet, they will enjoy paddling in a wet or muddy area to cool their feet and legs and help to reduce overall temperature.
If you can make a nice muddy area under a tree, so much the better!
Even More Shade!?
If you need shade that is quick to put up and easy to move, here are a final few idea for you.
Depending on the type you have available, make sure it’s firmly anchored into or onto the ground. This idea is not perhaps practical on a windy day, unless you are Mary Poppins, but it will do the job!
Portable patio umbrellas are the best because you can move them around during the day as the sun moves.
Is there any way you can rig up a cooling fan inside the coop? The cool moving air will help to lower the temperature a little. If you have lights in the coop be sure to turn them off. It may seem silly, but it does help to keep it cool.
Heat prostration can be deadly, but as long as you pay attention to your flock’s needs you can avoid your girls getting ill or worse.
Remember it’s important that they not be overcrowded, have access to cool, fresh water at all times and have adequate shade and cooling through the hot spells.
A final tidbit, try to leave the hens alone during hot weather, don’t fuss with them.
Any exercise or extra exertion can cause them problems, so refrain from picking them up or hugging them. They and you will survive the temporary separation!
We hope these tips have been helpful for you.
If you have an idea that we didn’t mention, please let us know in the comments below!