Here in the Northeast, we have been blessed with seemingly unending hot, humid days with little to no rain. For us humans, we simply retreat to the air-conditioned house, but what about your flock?
Chickens can’t sweat like us, nor can they remove their feather jackets, so what can we do to help them keep cool?
A hens’ normal body temperature is between 104-107F which helps them to be more resistant to cold- the heat is another matter.
High temperatures will lead your flock to become cranky, they won’t eat as much, will drink more, lay fewer eggs, have thin, watery diarrhea and lowered fertility rates in both roosters and hens’.
We have come up with a few ideas to help the ladies stay cool in this killer heat. We must mention here that the heat we are referring to are the sudden heat waves that we experience from time to time. A hen raised in a hot climate will acclimate to their environment although it should be common sense to provide shady areas for them to lounge around in.
A shallow pan of cool water placed in a shady area is great for them to dip their feet into. The feet and legs of the chicken are one of the areas that they have to reduce their internal temperature. Once you have shown them how, they will be happy to cool their feet off.
If a hen is looking listless, pale and is panting, she may be getting heat stroke.
Pick her up and dunk her in some cool water. You can submerse her up to the neck if necessary. Do this for a couple of minutes then remove her from the water and put her in a cool place, gently towel the feathers- though be sure to leave them damp.
If she is lying unresponsive and doesn’t move when you prod her, you need to cool her down immediately.
Try the cool water bath making sure you get water between the feathers and onto her skin. Use cool water not iced water- you need to bring the temperature down steadily but slowly, especially if she is an older hen.
The shock between being very hot to very cold might be too much for her and cause failure of her heart.
Chickens dust bathe to keep down external parasites and also to cool themselves on a hot day. In an extended amount of days with no rain, even the lower layers of dirt will be dry and dusty.
In the morning just before you let them out, gently water their dust bath area so it will be cool and damp later on.
Alternatively, you can make a temporary dust bath in a shady area for them.
If you aren’t sure how to do this, check out our DIY dust bath article. It really is very easy and quick to do and the girls will thank you for it I promise!
Our recent article on chicken shade ideas is more comprehensive, but you can create a shaded area by using sail cloth, tarp or similar. You can make a tent like structure or extend from your run to make an awning.
If you are using a tarp, this can be firmly attached to the run at the coop end.
It is amazing just how much this simple measure will reduce the temperature and not only will it protect from the sun, but the snow too.
Bushes and shrubs provide shade for your hens too. If you don’t have many around, try planting some by the run. You will need to keep them protected for the first year as the chickens will want to sample…
I allow wild cat mint to grow around the coop. It keeps insects down, provides cover for the chicks and hens and makes the coop smell clean and fresh.
Grow vining plants on and over the run, the girls will not only benefit from the shade but may enjoy nibbling the leaves and flowers too. Make sure that whatever you plant isn’t poisonous for them.
Using a misting system can cool the girls down gently.
It’s best to set it up in a shady area for them since the ground will retain some of the moisture which will cool their feet. On a normal day hens’ don’t really care to get wet, but in the heat they will tolerate wetness because it cools them down.
Using the mister two or three times a day will cut back on the amount of water you use and be less likely to create a muddy mess in the coop.
Remember, you want them cool but you don’t want to create a breeding ground for mosquitoes and disease.
Cooling the Coop
Inside the coop you need to keep the poop under control. In hot weather it pays to remove it daily- Why? There are a couple of reasons:
- Decomposing materials create heat.
- Poop attracts flies and other insects. Flies in the coop can quickly lead to ‘flystrike’ on a hen if she has a poopy back end.
- The ammonia fumes can become intolerable very quickly.
Change out the nesting box materials and coop bedding frequently during hot weather and try to keep the bedding to no more than a couple of inches deep.
Do you have any lights in your coop? Be sure to turn them off during the daytime, they contribute to the heat inside the coop.
Make sure there is sufficient ventilation to your coop. Is it stifling when you go in? Improving ventilation is a good idea for both summer and winter.
If you have a small coop that has a lift off lid, open it part way with a small wooden wedge or similar. There are other simple fixes for coop ventilation depending on your type of coop.
Feed and Water
In really hot weather a hens’ feed intake will diminish as will egg laying. The fluid intake will go up however as she tries to keep hydrated.
Cooling Their Water
When filling the drinkers, add ice cubes or chunks to the water, they will help it stay cool for longer.
Even better, fill the drinkers to about one third full in the evening and put the drinkers in the freezer. In the morning- fill up the drinker with fresh cold water. The large chunk of ice will keep it cooler longer.
Needless to say, place the drinkers out of the direct sun; no-one likes to drink warm or hot water. If the water becomes too warm, they may not drink and get dehydrated, so check the temperature of the water frequently.
In hot weather they will drink much more, up to three cups of water per day each. This leads to diarrhea which sluices out the unabsorbed vitamins and minerals in the food.
To help them maintain healthy levels of these, add vitamins and electrolytes to their water. There are several different brands out there, the choice is yours. If the heat continues unabated for several days or weeks you should add them to the water daily.
You can also add probiotic powder too if you wish. This will help the gut in trying to maintain good bacteria to aid with digestion. This is especially good for the very young and elderly chickens.
A favorite treat for those hot days is watermelon! Watermelon is cool and refreshing; it contains lots of water and natural fruit sugars for the ladies. You can feed it whole or make a watermelon slushie.
Watermelon Slushie Recipe
As much watermelon as you can spare, put in a blender until pureed. If it’s a bit thick, add some more water until the consistency is that of liquid gelatin.
You can either make ice cubes of the mixture or put it in a plastic bag in the freezer.
When semi-frozen, remove and feed the ladies. Honestly, I have a lot of fun watching them devour this!
Move the Coop for Better Ventilation
If your coop is mobile, move it to a shaded or breezy area. Improving ventilation and airflow will be beneficial in especially hot and humid climates. You can move the location of your chickens temporarily and put them back in their winter homes later on.
If you’re just starting your flock, it’s helpful to keep in mind that some breeds fair better in hot climates than others.
If you live in a hot climate, it may be wise to consider starting your flock with chickens that are going to thrive where you live.
Chickens with tight feathers do very well in regions that are warm as opposed to bigger, fluffier, chickens who are better insulated.
If you’re purchasing from a hatchery, you can often find information about how different breeds perform in hot and cold weather. Most hatcheries supply this information, but if you can’t find it on their website or in their catalog, a quick internet search should help you find what you need.
There are several ideas here, perhaps you will only use two or three for your particular situation, but every little helps.
Whatever you decide to do, keeping your interactions with the flock brief will help them to conserve energy and beat the heat.
Please don’t try to entice them to eat by giving scratch or corn, remember those two items can raise the metabolism of a hen and cause her to become even hotter.
Heat stroke can overtake a chicken very quickly. If you don’t take immediate measures your hen will most certainly die. If you have tried all measures that you can without any improvement in her condition you should talk with your veterinarian.
So, watch the weather forecast closely for heat and humidity and take action accordingly, your girls will be silently grateful!
Let us know in the comments below how you keep your chickens cool during a heat wave…
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