CHICKENS ARE NOT BUILT FOR HOT WEATHER
The normal body temperature of a chicken ranges between 104°-107°F, which it must regulate in hot weather without the benefit of sweat glands while wearing a down jacket! Chickens regulate their body temperature primarily by employing evaporative cooling techniques; body heat is lost through combs, wattles, legs, and droppings. When temperatures reach the mid 80s, a chicken will begin to pant, spread its wings away from its body, begin limiting its activity and reduce its feed intake.
In temperatures over 90° F, keep a bucket or tub full of cool, water (not cold) near the flock at all times. If anyone begins to look overheated, panting, wings away from its sides, droopy, lethargic or pale in the wattles and comb, IMMEDIATELY submerge in the cool water up to its neck to bring its body temperature down. This simple measure can be lifesaving. Even if chickens are not in danger, this can be a welcome relief to chickens that would not voluntarily wade into water.
TIPS TO BEAT THE HEAT
Switch from layer feed (16% protein) to grower feed (18-20% protein). Since a chicken will eat less feed in the heat, providing laying hens with feed higher in protein will allow them to eat less overall volume while continuing to meet their daily nutritional needs. Laying hens should always be provided with oyster shell free-choice to ensure strong bones and eggshells, but oyster shells are even more important in hot weather when feed intake declines.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE
It is critical to provide clean, cool water to chickens in hot weather. Keep waterers in shady locations and supply additional water sources wherever possible. Bring the water TO THE CHICKENS. If they have a favorite, shady rest area during the day, place waterers near them. Chickens shouldn’t have to travel far to drink and will drink more if it is convenient to do so.
Refresh the water supply often throughout the day-chickens will not drink water that is as few as ten degrees warmer than their body temperature.
If possible, use a poultry nipple drinker to ensure a clean, fresh supply of water to chickens at all times. Add ice cubes or frozen water bottles to the poultry nipple drinker.
NOTE: Due to increased water intake on hot days, a chicken’s droppings can appear loose/watery/runny, which is completely normal. The passage of large amounts of water through the digestive tract is a method by which chickens cool themselves internally. Smart, right? This process is known as excretory heat transfer.
Provide a wading area with a kiddie pool, sled or shallow pan of water for chickens inclined to stand in it; mine won’t, but yours may! For chickens not partial to wading pools, flood areas of high-traffic so they must walk through it to get where they want to go.
Use misters in shady areas. Misters work by “flash evaporation” to cool the air. The lower the humidity, the COOLER the air, the higher the humidity, the less relative cooling, but the air will still be COOLER in the misted area and the surrounding area than without a mister. You can expect a temperature drop of 10-20° F in 40-80% humidity with a mister in the chicken yard.
over the run with a tarp, roof, shade cloth, umbrella, banana leaves- whatever you’ve got- to keep the sun from baking the ground. Provide additional shade wherever possible, by whatever means available. Plan landscaping to provide shaded areas around the chicken coop and run. Apply reflective film to coop windows.
These ornamental grasses provide shade and keep the ground cool for the chickens during the heat of the day. The grasses grow very quickly and the chickens neither eat them nor trample them. BONUS!
ICE, ICE BABY
Freeze various sizes of water bottles and jugs and add them to waterers throughout the day. Chickens will not drink water that is ten degrees warmer than their body temp.
Place a large, plastic bucket or trash can on its side in a shady spot, adding frozen water bottles/jugs inside it for chickens to rest alongside. Freeze water in cake pans and place underneath stepping stones in the shade for the birds to lay on.
Ensure there are windows on all four sides of the coop! Chickens are not built for hot weather; they have a core body temperature of ~107°F, they wear down jackets, and have no sweat glands. Temperatures over 85°F are endanger their lives. Windows are not a coop luxury, they are a survival essential. If your coop does not have functioning windows on all four walls, create some with a reciprocating saw, hinges and predator-proof with hardware cloth secured by screws and washers.
During the day, prop open all coop doors and windows including the egg door, to promote airflow.
If it is too hot in the nest boxes, BLOCK ACCESS TO THEM to prevent hens from using them. Set up temporary nest boxes in a cooler location in the coop, in the run or outside the run. A milk crate, cardboard box, large basket- anything you can think of that affords air flow and cooler temperatures can be used as a nest box in dangerously hot weather.
If using the deep litter/built-up litter system, remove it and replace it with clean, shallow litter; pine shavings are fine, but sand is ideal.
Use sand in the covered run- it stays cool and and provides ample opportunities for laying in dusting holes- another mechanism chickens use to cool themselves. Tuck frozen water bottles into litter at night.
ELECTROLYTES FOR HEAT STRESS
When heat stress is suspected, add electrolytes to the water to help replace those lost from panting. “Administer this solution to dehydrated chickens in place of drinking water for four to six hours per day for a week, offering fresh water for the remainder of each day.“It is simple to make an electrolyte solution, click here for a recipe and instructions.
Avoid giving chickens treats when it’s hot outside so as not to promote increased internal body temperatures from digestion and increased physical activity. I used to offer my chickens frozen treats in hot weather, but I don’t anymore since I now realize it promotes increased body temperatures and that they need the nutrients in their feed, which they may not eat if they eat other foods.
While we think of mint as refreshing in hot weather due to its flavor, mint does not have cooling properties nor the ability to lower a chicken’s body temperature. Not only does mint NOT reduce a chicken’s body temperature, they do not even perceive the minty flavor due to their extremely limited taste buds. Chickens have approximately 250 taste buds compared to humans with nearly 10,000. So, there’s certainly no harm in giving chickens fresh mint, but mint does not help lower a chicken’s body temperature and will not help them in any way. Read more about mint here.
DUST BATH AREAS
Provide access to dust bathing areas in shady locations. Chickens cool themselves by digging down to cooler spots in the earth. Sand is an ideal dust bathing medium as it stays cool in the shade and requires no expenditure of excess energy by the chickens to dig up. Mulch and peat moss are also excellent choices for a dust bath medium.
SKIP THE ACV
Vinegar should NOT be added to waterers particularly during times of high heat. I asked Dr. Mike Petrik, a laying hen veterinarian with a Master of Science degree in animal welfare, his opinion of vinegar in poultry waterers. In reply, Dr. Petrik wrote the following, which dictates AGAINST using ACV during high heat conditions:
“Acidified wateraffects 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, OR in lieu of electrolytes, add 1/4 cup baking soda per gallon of water.
It’s not easy caring for chickens in the heat, but a little bit of planning and few, simple adjustments can make a big difference in their comfort level and their very ability to survive.