Keeping Chickens Cool During Summer

Keeping chickens cool during summer just got a little easier with our simple tips about coop ventilation, misters, nutrition, hydration, and more.

| July/August 2017

  • Free-range chickens on pasture at dairy farm in Waitsfield, Vermont. Free ranging will allow chickens to find a cool location.
    Photo by Lynn Stone
  • A hen finds a cool place to rest.
    Photo by AKM Images; Inc./Emmanuel Keller
  • A movable chicken coop provides shelter for chickens.
    Photo by Terry Wild Stock
  • Chicken tractors can be moved to the shade during the hottest parts of summer.
    Photo by Terry Wild Stock
  • Chicks standing in foliage during early summer.
    Photo by Pixtal/Ronnie Kaufman/Larry Hirshowitz
  • A portable coop can be moved to greener pastures.
    Photo by Jason Houston

Believe it or not, in most cases it’s more difficult to care for chickens during the blazing heat of summer than it is during winter. Unlike us, for the most part chickens seem to take winter in stride. However, during the intense summer heat, you may notice that your chickens eat less, drink more water, and lay fewer eggs. These are just a few of the things that can happen during soaring summer temperatures. Here we will focus on how chickens cool themselves, how to recognize heat stress, techniques to keep your backyard flock cool, summer nutritional needs, free-ranging tips, composting suggestions, and we’ll even touch on gardening with chickens.

How Do Chickens Keep Cool?

Chickens do best when the outside temperature is between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is the optimal temperature for chicken health, egg laying, and brooding eggs and chicks.

Chickens maintain an internal body temperature of around 106 degrees Fahrenheit. Chickens maintain this body temperature using a few intrinsic techniques.

There are cold-hardy chicken breeds and heat-hardy chicken breeds. The biggest difference between the two is the size of their combs and wattles. Size does matter when it comes to combs and wattles, as this is one way that chickens regulate their body temperature. Larger combs and wattles allow the chicken to cool their body more readily. The combs and wattles help cool the blood. As blood flows through the comb and wattle, it is more closely exposed to the temperature of their environment. This technique works well for chickens, but what about those cold-hardy chickens with smaller combs and wattles? Chickens have a couple more cooling techniques.

Unlike us, chickens do not rely on sweating to cool their bodies. Instead, they use evaporation via their respiratory system. As water vapor from the chicken’s lungs and air sacs is exchanged into the air, the bird is able to cool itself. Humans evaporate sweat from our bodies to cool; chickens evaporate water from their respiratory system. When chickens are overheated, they begin to pant. This is often the first sign of heat stress. Panting not only increases the resting breathing rate but also the rate of water evaporation from their lungs. You might notice that because of this, chickens drink more on hot summer days.

It is important to realize that when the humidity level in the air is over 50 percent, it is more difficult for chickens to perform this cooling function because the atmosphere is already quite saturated with moisture.

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