Summer Heat Stress and Cooling Tips for Backyard Chicken Keepers

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By Melissa Caughey | Jun 28, 2012

Summer has finally arrived on Cape Cod.  As temperatures soar, the hydrangea leaves are wilting, the perennials look tired and the flock has begun to pant.   Oyster Cracker, our biggest and fluffiest chicken, is always the first one to show signs of overheating.  Her panting is always the signal for me to begin taking cooling measures for the flock to keep them safe and comfortable in the heat.

Chickens do not do well in heat. Sometimes, it can be downright dangerous. Chickens regulate their body temperature through their wattles and combs. As they do not sweat, you will, on hot days, see them panting. Their beaks are open and their rate of breathing is increased. You might even catch a glimpse of them walking around with their wings held away from their bodies. All these things are normal phenomenon-ways chickens cool themselves. If not carefully monitored, chickens can become stressed in the heat. They can even perish if their needs are not met. So keeping this in mind, there are a few steps that you can take.

Be sure that the have access to cool fresh water. Don’t hesitate to refill the waterers a few times a day. Feel free to add some ice cubes. It will stay cooler longer. Chickens will drink up to two cups per day when it is hot. Remember, their bodies are 50% water and their eggs are 65% water. You might even think about providing your flock with an extra waterer or two.

It is normal for hens not to lay as many eggs on scorching hot days. Sometimes they stop laying altogether until there is a break in the weather. Their bodies are stressed.

Chickens’ appetites will also decrease as well. They may not eat as much food as usual. This is the time when I bring them treats from the kitchen a few times per day. I like to bring them goodies to serve whole, as they will stay cooler longer- cucumbers, tomatoes, halved watermelon and the like.

Provide shade, good ventilation and do not disturb your resting chicken, even walking can increase their heart rate and demands placed on their bodies.

Gail Damerow in her book, The Chicken Health Handbook, describes heat stressed birds as drinking large amounts of water, having difficulty breathing and overall weakness. If you notice a member of your flock stressed from the heat, move the chicken to a shady area and place it into cool (not cold) water. These measures will help to cool the chicken’s core temperature. Be sure to provide plenty of rest and water for your affected flock member. It very well could take a few days to recover.

Here are some tips from Tilly’s Nest on how we beat the heat.  Feel free to try a few or use all of these measures to keep your flock happy in the lazy, hazy days of summer that are certainly upon us.

1. During the summer one of my girls’ favorite treats is the “Spa Treatment”.  I take a shallow disposable pan, fill it with ice water and then sprinkle in some fresh herbs. The fresh herbs make this absolutely irresistible. The girls enjoy standing in it. Drinking from it and sampling cool refreshing treats. I know that it is a welcomed guest in the run on hot days like this.

2.  Keep the waterers chilly.  Each evening, I fill a small 2 cup capacity Tupperware container with water, seal the lid and place it in the freezer.  In the morning, I remove the block of ice from the container and slip it through the top of the waterer.  Next, I fill the waterer and bring it out to the girls.  I am sure to refill the Tupperware container and return it to the freezer because sometimes I do this twice a day, in the morning and late afternoon.

3.  Feed your girls nice cool treats in the hottest part of the day.  My flock loves to eat fruits and vegetables straight from the fridge.  They love cucumbers, left-over corn on the cob, watermelon halves and cold tomatoes.  If you can hang them, it also keeps them entertained.  I love my treat ball from Treats for Chickens and use it for this as well.  It fits whole apples and tomatoes.

4.  Create a coop air conditioner.  Fill a 1 gallon jug 3/4 of the way full and place it in the freezer until it is completely frozen.  When you get ready to lock your flock up at night, place the frozen jug in the corner of the coop.  As the ice thaws, it cools the surrounding air.  Sometimes, the chickens will even roost right against the jug.

5.  Consider installing windows or opening covered with wiring.  When I purchased my coop, I had three windows cut into it.  All of the windows are covered and secured with hardware cloth and feature removable plexiglass windows.  When the weather is warm, I remove the plexiglass and when it cold and rainy, I replace the plexiglass pieces.

6.  Shade the run.  Be sure that your outdoor space always has a shady space for the girls to escape the heat.  You can always cover portions with a removable tarp, an old blanket or even a small roof.  It is important that they are not baking in the sun all day.

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