Keeping chickens cool in summer months can sometimes be a struggle, especially during a heat wave. Your flock will appreciate some extra care to help them cope when the temperatures rise.
Signs that a chicken has heat stress are panting with beak open, lying down with its wings spread, being off its food and lethargic. Don’t wait until you see the signs. Keep an eye on the weather forecast and take action as soon as the weather gets hot.
Tips on keeping chickens cool in summer:
Shade – It’s an obvious answer, but make sure they have plenty of shade. Leafy shade works best where possible, as the air is cooler than shade created from building materials such as wood or brick. This is because the heat from the sun permeates wood and brick, so the warm air radiates from it. If you don’t have trees near your coop, container grown shrubs work well and they can also be moved to provide shade throughout the day. If you use shrubs within the coop, make sure the plants are not poisonous to chickens.
Sheets of cloth, hessian, tarps and sun parasols can be used to create shade, and are more cooling when wetted.
Cool Treats – Feeding cold, frozen and moisture rich foods help to keep chickens cool. Water melon, cucumber and frozen fruit such as raspberries, blackberries and chopped apple makes for a tasty, cooling treat. Avoid overdoing the grains as digesting them raises a chicken’s body temperature.
Ice – chill drinking water with ice cubes several times per day. Place extra drinkers or trays in the pen to encourage regular hydration. Freeze bottles of water and direct a fan on them to blow cool air around the run.
Electrolytes – these are minerals and salts that are lost during body heat. Replacing them by adding electrolytes (available from poultry suppliers) to drinking water. Note: electrolytes are for chickens with signs of heat stress, do not give to healthy chickens.
Bathing and Misting – Set a hose to spray a fine mist over the pen. This reduces the ground temperature and allows your chickens to have a cooling ‘shower’ if they want to. A shallow tray of water will encourage chickens to wade in and cool their feet, bathe and splash it over themselves. Place it in the shade for maximum effect.
Coops – Coops can get hot and stuffy, even at night, so adequate ventilation is important. It allows hot air to escape, but at the same time, not be draughty. Consider using a fan to push cool air through the coop, but set it at an angle so not direct at perches.
Hens are creatures of habit, and will want to lay eggs in nest boxes. On hot days it is worth preventing your chickens from going inside the coop entirely, as time spent in a sweltering nest box could be too much. Instead, provide alternative nesting areas in the shade outside.
Emergency care: if you find a hen suffering from extreme heat stress, bring her indoors. Fill a sink or bucket with water that is room temperature and sit her in it, taking care to make sure her head and neck are above water. Do not use cold water as this can cause shock. Keep her in a cool area indoors with plenty of water to drink with added electrolytes. This could save a chicken’s life!
Keeping a bucket of water near the coop is also a good idea, so you can cool down hens that show signs of heat stress.
With extra care, heat stress can be avoided. Please share your tips on keeping chickens cool in summer!