By Lisa Steele, Blue Seal Brand Ambassador
Chickens do far better in cold temperatures than in the heat, and once the mercury rises much past 75ºF, they’ll start feeling the effects, especially if the air is humid. Understanding your chickens’ needs is important in warmer months. Heat exhaustion is a very real thing and can happen quickly if a chicken begins to overheat.
Chickens have a few tricks in their arsenal to keep cool. They will hold their wings out from their bodies to allow any cool breeze to reach their skin more easily. They will also pant. Since chickens don’t sweat like humans and other mammals, they expel warm body heat through their mouths – and also their combs. A chicken’s comb acts as a mini radiator, allowing heat to escape.
If you live in a warm climate, choosing heat-tolerant breeds is prudent. Certain breeds are better able to handle extreme heat than others due to their large combs, sleek bodies and lighter feather coloring. The Mediterranean breeds are most notable for their heat tolerance and include the Leghorn, Sicilian Buttercup, Penedesenca, Andalusian and Ancona among others.
More water, please
Providing clean, cold water in the summer is critical. If you aren’t able to change out warm water for cool several times a day, use ice cubes (or even better, ice blocks made by freezing water in loaf pans or plastic water bottles) and set them in the water tubs. This will keep the water cooler longer.
Summer water should be located in the shade and provided in large tubs versus gravity or nipple watering systems. This will keep the water cooler longer and also allow your chickens to step into the tubs to cool their feet and dunk their heads and combs into the water. These are two methods chickens use to quickly lower their body temperature.
During a heat wave, adding some electrolytes to the water is a good idea. Electrolytes can be purchased commercially at your feed store or you can mix up a batch easily using this simple recipe: 1 cup water, 2 teaspoons sugar, 1/8 teaspoon sea salt and 1/8 teaspoon baking soda. Mix into their drinking water as needed, a cup per gallon of water.
Easy, breezy and shady
Shade is truly one of the most critical comforts you can offer your chickens to help them stay cool. Shade from trees and bushes planted inside the run – in addition to any shade the coop itself might provide – is important. If there’s no natural shade, sun cloth can be used to shield a portion of your chicken run from the sun’s rays.
The coop itself should be well-ventilated with cross breezes, both up high to let hot air escape but also at a lower level to allow the breeze to blow in on the chickens when they’re sleeping. Installing a fan in your coop can also help to cool it down at night. And freezing gallon jugs full of water and placing them in the coop when you lock up at night will work to cool the air down even more.
Stick to the good stuff
Scratch grains and cracked corn should be avoided in the warm months. Instead, treats such as watermelon, cucumber, berries and other water-laden fruits and vegetables will help keep your chickens hydrated. Freezing the treats in water and offering them as frozen snacks is another option to keep your chickens cool.
When temperatures rise, keep your chickens as calm as possible. Avoid chasing them or allowing children to carry them around excessively. You want the chickens to exert as little energy as possible so they can concentrate on staying cool.
Note: if heat exhaustion is suspected, indicated by lethargic birds lying down or being unsteady on their feet, quickly address the issue by: bringing the affected chicken indoors where it’s cool, administering electrolytes and standing the bird in a tub of cold water so just the feet and legs are submerged. These are the best ways to effectively treat heat exhaustion.
Lisa Steele is a 5th generation chicken keeper, author, DIYer and master gardener. Follow her blog at www.fresheggsdaily.com.