High heat is dangerous for chickens and measures must be taken by their caretakers to ensure their well-being, particularly when temperatures increase suddenly or exceed 85° F. Heat stroke, heat-induced stress and death can result when a chicken is overheated.
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.
The normal body temperature of a chicken ranges between 104°-107°F, which it must regulate without the benefit of sweat glands. It does this primarily by employing evaporative cooling techniques. Body heat is lost through combs, wattles, legs, droppings and its wing-pits (I made that term up, but…you get the drift). 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.
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 a ration 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 eggshells
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-will not drink water that is as few as ten degrees warmer than their body temp.
If possible, utilize a poultry nipple watering system to ensure a clean, fresh, cold 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.
For chickens not partial to wading pools, flood areas of high-traffic so they must walk through it.
Employ 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.
Cover 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. They 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.
Prop open all coop doors and windows during the day, including the egg door, to promote airflow.
Add fans to the coop and run. Place a frozen jug of water between the fan and nest boxes during the day and between the fan and roosts at night.
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 has lots of ventilation can be used as a nest box.
If using the deep litter/built-up litter system, remove it and replace it with clean, shallow bedding, pine shavings or sand.
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 bedding 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 Gail Damerow’s recipe and instructions.
As a general rule, avoid giving chickens treats when it’s hot outside so as not to promote increased internal body temperatures from digestion. An exception is frozen fruit and vegetables (blueberries, strawberries, corn, squash, etc.) that can help cool and hydrate them. Watermelon is particularly helpful towards this end.
A NOTE ABOUT CHICKENS & MINT
While we think of mint as refreshing in hot weather due to its flavor, it does not, in fact, have cooling properties on 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 occasionally, but do not suffer the false impression that it is helping lower their body temperature. Mint will not lower a chicken’s body temperature.
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.
SKIP THE ACV
Apple cider vinegar 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 Dr. Mike Petrik, a laying hen veterinarian with a Master of Science degree in animal welfare, his opinion of ACV in poultry waterers. In reply, Dr. Petrik wrote the following, which dictates AGAINST using ACV during high heat conditions:
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.
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