Even though it is still Spring here in Australia, it is already starting to heat up. It’s only mid-October and this week alone, most days are 35˚C (95˚F) and over, even hitting 39˚C (102.2˚F) on one day. And summer doesn’t officially start for another six weeks! We are not the only ones to feel the heat, our animals do as well. Poultry don’t have sweat glands, so excessive heat will affect them, and can lead to stress and even death. During this critical time, try using some these tips to keep your chickens cool during the summer heat.
Can Chickens Handle Heat
Generally, chickens can handle heat up to around 30˚C, though prolonged hot temperatures combined with high humidity is uncomfortable for everyone. This heat increases the risk of heat stress and illness which could eventually lead to death. The degree of stress does include many factors including the breed of chickens you have, their diet and their living arrangements.
Chickens that live in hot climates generally become accustomed to the heat and are able to tolerate it better than those that don’t. Though, if a heatwave is forecast, being prepared to help your chickens through this period is a must.
How do Chickens Cool Themselves?
Chickens can’t sweat to cool themselves. Instead, excess heat is removed via the unfeathered parts of their body – their combs, wattles, beaks and feet. Panting is another way they regulate their body temperature.
It is perfectly normal for chickens to eat less, pant and hold their wings away from their bodies in times of hot weather. As they are drinking a lot more water, their droppings also tend to be a little more runnier.
Start preparing early before the heat to ensure you are ready in case you find one of your chickens does become stressed and needs help.
As the heat arrives, keep an eye on them, checking them for signs of heat stress and know when you need to take action. Some signs to keep an eye on are
- rapid breathing
- pale or discoloured combs and wattles
- becoming listless and droopy
If you have a chicken that has health issues and a heat wave is on the way, these health issues will be amplified by the heat. So keep an eye on them.
Though if you find a chicken that has becoming alarmingly listless during a hot spell, set up a large crate in a cool area and care for them as needed.
Chickens need dense shade to help keep them cool. And lots of it. This is one of the most important steps to keeping your chickens cool. Plant lots of trees that will provide shade where the heat won’t radiate through, or add a tarpaulin or shade cloth to your run where they can rest, especially during the heat of the day.
A good idea is to provide a type of ‘rainforest’ area for them that consists of multiple layers of plants that they can sit under, create a dust bath in or stand in a branch in the breeze.
Fresh, cool water is a must. Chickens drink a lot of water when it is hot. It is one way that helps them stay cool. Make sure the waterers are in a shady place so that they will not heat up, especially if using metal containers. Check on these and top up if needed throughout the day.
Instead of one or two large containers, try offering a variety o smaller containers or shallow bowls that they can drink from as needed. This is ideal incase one of them waterers tips over or runs dry. It will also help them conserve energy as they won’t have to go hunting for water.
One small ice block could be added to the water, just to keep it cool. Cool water is better for them than ice cold water.
Adding apple cider vinegar to their water is one thing that must not be done during hot weather. Though apple cider vinegar is useful for some things, it raises a chicken’s metabolism which in turn will raise their temperature, so avoid using in hot conditions.
More Chicken Resources
- Fermented Chicken Feed
- Flock Block for Chickens
- Chicken Life Cycle Printables for Kids
- Bending a Chicken Bone Experiment for Kids
- Tips for Getting Started with Backyard Chickens
Feed and Scrapes
Feeding of regular chicken food and scrapes is encouraged. Though in saying this, high-carb treats and scratch mix, especially one that contains corn, should be avoided during heat waves. These work by warming up chickens from he inside out, so is good for warming them up during the cool months, not for cooling them down during the warmer ones. Also avoid feeding them high protein foods as these increase their metabolism.
Frozen treats are not necessary and can be more harmful in the long run. When a chicken eats frozen treats, it does cool them down, but then their bodies will heat up again. If a chicken’s body heats up and cools down over and over again during the day, it can cause undue stress and their systems may begin to fail which can lead to heat stroke and heat exhaustion.
Juicy watermelon contains a high percentage of water and almost no salt, making it a great treat for your flock. Blueberries, peas, strawberries and leafy greens also make delicious high-moisture treats. As always, treats should be fed in moderation, especially during hot conditions. Chickens generally eat less during this weather, and can easily become malnourished if fed the wrong type of food.
It is always recommended to have good ventilation in your chicken coop. Though if you live in an area with high heat, hopefully some cooling measures were put in place when setting up your coop.
During the warmer weather, ensure the coop has predator proof screen openings that allow for a cross-breeze.
For those that need to keep the coop pretty solid during cold winters, see if there is a way that a solid wall or door can be swapped out with wire mesh for the warmer months.
Also, make sure to avoid overcrowding in the coop and run. I mean, who wants to be part of a crowd on a hot day?
Keeping the Coop Clean
Warm weather attracts lice and mites. It’s a fact of life when you have chickens. These pests can suck the life out of chickens at the time when chickens need to use their energy to beat the heat. One way to limit these pests is to keep the coop clean and tidy.
Some people use a deep litter method in their coop which can act as an extra layer of insulation. This is great during the colder months, though less than ideal in warmer conditions.
Moist Soil or Mud Puddle
A good way to help chickens to lower their temperature is to provide something to keep their feet cool.
Try setting up shallow dishes or a kiddie pool of water for chickens to stand in. Add a few pavers or stepping stones for them to stand in while in the water. Though, these must be kept shallow, as wetting chickens feathers is not a good idea.
Trying to cool down chickens by spraying them with the hose is only going to matt their feathers. Chickens cool down by allowing air to flow through their feathers. If the feathers are wet and matted down, the air doesn’t flow as freely as it should.
If your chickens are interested in a shallow pool of water, try creating a muddle puddle area. Wet the ground, providing your chickens with a muddy place to rest. Chickens love playing in the dirt, so may enjoy playing in a cooling mud puddle.
Wallowing in the dirt is another way for chickens to clean and cool themselves. Providing a dust bath for your chickens is a good way to help them beat the heat while keeping the pests at bay.
The perfect place for a dust bath is in the shade. You can create this in a kiddie pool, or other container, filling it with fine dirt, sand, a sprinkle of lime, wood ash and pestene powder. Add some fresh herbs for pest control as well.
Peppermint is a naturally cooling herb which chickens enjoy. Though they won’t be able to taste it, it can help them during a hot spell. Sage, lemon balm, lemon grass and red clover are others herbs that can help chickens naturally keep themselves cool.
It isn’t hard to lower the temperatures of your chickens down to a more comfortable, and safe level. Remember, when you are feeling the heat, so are they! This would be the perfect time for using some of these tips for keeping your chickens cool.