Heat stress is a very serious situation for chickens and can quickly go from serious to deadly. With the extremely hot temperatures around the country this summer, we have been discussing ways to help our chickens beat the heat quite a bit on my Facebook page recently. Even when employing all of the tricks and tips possible to keep our chickens safe in the heat, according to Gail Damerow in The Chicken Encyclopedia, "[d]uring long periods of extreme heat, hens stop laying and all chickens suffer stress. When temperatures reach 104° F (40° C) or above, chickens can't lose excess heat fast enough to maintain a proper body temperature and may die."
Among the many ways to combat heat stress that I covered in my blog post Beat the Heat, is to supplement their drinking water with
electrolytes. I recommend keeping vitamins and electrolytes handy in a well stocked chicken first aid kit, but in an emergency, it is possible to make electrolytes with ingredients commonly found in most homes.
I received a question today from someone whose chicken was dehydrated and clearly in danger due to the heat, but had no electrolytes handy and promptly referred to her the recipe in The Chicken Encyclopedia.
Heat stress and dehydration deplete the body of electrolytes required for a chicken's normal body functioning, therefore replenishing them is a priority when chickens suffer from heat stress and/or dehydration. The following instructions for making a homemade electrolyte solution can be found in The Chicken Encyclopedia, a book I highly recommend every chicken-keeper include in their
1/2 teaspoon salt substitute*
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 gallon water
*Salt substitute is readily available in most grocery stores in the spice aisle near the salt, but if you do not have it, don't worry, the solution will still have most of the benefits intended to combat heat stress.
ADVISORY: This solution should not be given to healthy chickens who are not suffering from heat stress or dehydration.
While we're on the topic of heat advisories, it bears repeating that while apple cider vinegar is beneficial to to chickens when added to their water most times of the year, ACV should NOT be added to waterers during times of high heat. In a recently published blog post that reviewed the benefits of ACV to poultry, I asked a chicken expert his opinion of ACV in poultry waterers. In reply, the Chicken Vet wrote the following, which dictates AGAINST using ACV during high heat conditions:
"Acidified water affects laying hens by making the calcium in her feed a little less digestible (based on chemistry....calcium is a positive ion, and dissociates better in a more alkaline environment). Professional farmers regularly add baking soda to their feed when heat stress is expected....this maintains egg shell quality when hens' feed consumption drops due to the heat."
In summary, during high heat conditions, baking soda facilitates calcium absorption while ACV inhibits it. SKIP the ACV in the heat, opting for an electrolyte solution instead.