Some small things can have a big impact on the health and comfort of your flock
The summer heat can be brutal for us humans and also for our backyard chickens. They have a hard time keeping cool and can suffer from heat stress during the summertime when the temps remain consistently high. They will be much less active and egg production can slow down or even stop completely.
It’s easier for chickens to keep themselves warm in the winter than to stay cool in the heat, after all they have downy feathers, so they are really built for the cold. But extreme heat, that’s another story. For chickens, their combs and wattles and feet allow heat to escape their bodies to help cool them down.
When it’s really hot, you will begin to notice your birds spreading their wings out to get air flow under their feathers and panting to stay cool. They will drink more and eat less, and this will also make their excrement more runny than usual.
Whether your chickens free range all day or spend most of the day in their run, there are some small things you can do to help your flock that will make a big difference.
PROVIDE PLENTY OF COOL, FRESH WATER
This is one of the most important things to do for your chickens. If possible, you will want to change out your water daily to keep it nice and cool for them. You can also add ice cubes into the waterer. This can be done at least once a day, especially if you can’t change out the water. When it’s hot, I just partially fill my 4-gallon poultry waterer, so I can easily dump it and give them ice and fresh cold water each day.
It’s also a good idea to have multiple poultry waterers available for your birds, so they all can easily get to their water. The point is that you don’t want them to have to expend energy to find cool, clean water or fight over it either.
Another thing you can do is bring out a bowl of ice water. The chickens will enjoy fresh, cold water and it’s easy to keep that fresh if you cannot change out your poultry waterer every day.
GIVE THEM SHADE
Carolina Coops have covered run areas, but even then the sun can shine through depending on its location. If you have an additional run area, or a different coop and run entirely, or if you let your flock free range, you must make sure they have access to shady areas to find relief from the heat.
If they free range, then make sure they have trees and bushes to take cover from the hot sun and predators and places to enjoy dust baths.
If your flock is confined to a run most of the day, you may want to consider a shade cloth. My chicken run was in full sun and the pergola area was uncovered, so a shade cloth was a tremendous help.
This shade cloth from Coolaroo works great to provide lots of shade in the run area. It’s breathable so it allows for air flow and it’s made for the outdoors, so it’s heavy-duty. If you want one to hang on the inside, the roll-down version might be a better option.
ADD ELECTROLYTES TO THE WATER
Besides providing cool water for your birds, you can help them in the heat by adding electrolytes to their drinking water. Giving chickens electrolytes helps to replenish nutrients and minerals lost in the extreme heat. It boosts their immune system, prevents kidney malfunction, and keeps their respiratory system working at its best.
Rooster Booster is a great product to add to your poultry care kit. It has electrolytes, and it is also a vitamin booster and probiotic that comes in a convenient powder to mix with their water. It can be used after de-worming, during molting, to help a weak chick or bird, and of course, in extreme heat, when chickens are less likely to get their necessary nutrients through their feed.
You can also make your own electrolytes in a pinch.
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Stir until the sugar and salt dissolve and the mixture is combined. Add to drinking water.
PROVIDE COLD AND FROZEN TREATS
Just like people enjoy a Popsicle or ice cream on a hot day, chickens, too, like cold and frozen treats in the heat. Sliced watermelon that is chilled is a big favorite among my flock. You can also chill other melons or give them cucumber sliced down the middle. They love to eat the seeds. These treats all have a high water content and hens love to peck away at the tasty treats.
Another good idea is to add some of your chickens’ favorite treats in a container with water and freeze it. Frozen veggies, such as peas, beans, and carrots, plus frozen fruits, like grapes and berries are easy to mix in water to freeze to make your own frozen flock block.
You can use large yogurt containers, plastic take-out containers, or cooking pans you find at a thrift store. Adding some scratch grains in there also a fun option for your chickens.
This is such a favorite among my flock that I never see any scraps of food leftover.
DUST BATHS, HOLES AND MORE DUST BATHS
Chickens will instinctively dig holes in the dirt to keep and they will seek out areas to take a dust bath. In their run, I like to have a dedicated tub for dust baths. The reason for this is I can keep it clean (from poops) and sprinkle fresh diatomaceous earth in there to keep mites away.
Just make sure whether free ranging or inside a run, they have places to dig holes and take dust baths in the shade.
FANS AND OTHER COOLING TRICKS
I use a 20” box fan to help cool the girls in the extreme heat. They tend to stay in front of it a lot of the time and I usually give them their treats in front of it to encourage them to do so.
You can also put a jug of frozen water behind the fan to help cool down the air. I would do this trick over using misters only because chickens don’t particularly like getting their feathers wet and they have delicate respiratory systems. I wouldn’t want to risk making the air too moist, especially since I live in Raleigh, NC, which is humid already.
Another trick is laying down a frozen jug of water on its side in the run for chickens to perch near. I know someone who does this and her girls love it. Mine avoid the jug like the plague. Go figure.
I also heard that they will wade in water if you make a mini chicken pool for them. You may have to place your hens in there first to see if they will stand in some water. I haven’t had luck with this tip yet, but I will still try to see if they eventually take to it.
It can seem like an impossible task to keep your chickens cool in the summer, especially during times of extreme heat, but hopefully these tips will help. Keeping your girls cool will reduce stress, result in better egg production, and happier and healthier chickens.