The Dog Days of Summer are upon us, and it can be hard to figure out how to cool yourself off, let alone your chickens. Our fluffy little friends are great at laying eggs, throwing sass, digging holes… But it should come as no surprise that they’re not good at keeping themselves cool during extreme heat. After all, they live inside of down coats.
Thankfully, there are a few simple ways that you can help keep your flock cool and safe during hot summer weather. The best part is none of them are costly, they are all simple to execute, and once you do, you’ll have a happy, productive, and cooled flock in no time.
How Hot is “Too Hot” for Chickens?
Did you know that extreme heat is actually more dangerous for your flock than extreme cold? Chickens can’t sweat to cool themselves. Instead, they expel excess heat from their combs, wattles, beaks, and feet, otherwise known as any surface that isn’t covered in their built-in down jackets!
Your average chicken does best in temperatures between 55-75 degrees F. When the temperature gauge rises above 80 degrees, it adds stress to their bodies, particularly when you add in high humidity. For your backyard flock, temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit increase the risk of heat stress, heat-related illnesses, and even death, so keeping your chickens cool in the heat is essential.
Signs of Heat Stress and Heat Stroke in Chickens
As I said before, chickens don’t sweat, so you need to know what signs of heat stress look like for your flock. Heat waves will pose the greatest threat to your birds, so be sure to pay close attention to weather changes.
Panting, heavy breathing through open beaks
Standing with their wings held out away from their body
Lying on the ground with their wings spread
Droopy or lethargic behavior
Pale or discolored combs and wattles
It’s also important to note that some breeds will stop laying eggs when the temperatures soar, and around the 100 degrees Fahrenheit mark, egg production can stop entirely to allow the chicken to preserve fluid and rest her body.
8 Ways to Keep Your Flock Cool in Hot Weather
1) Get Shady
This is a simple but essential measure. Ensure that your flock has plenty of shaded areas to retreat to when the temperatures rise. If your flock free ranges, consider planting extra trees for them to rest under. Inside the run, you can place shade cloth or a tarp to keep things cool.
2) Keep it Fresh
Water, that is. When the summer heats up, be sure to provide your birds with a constant supply of cold fresh water. On the hottest days, that may mean refreshing their water a few times per day. You could also add chunks of ice or ice cubes to the water to help keep it cooler, longer. Make sure water containers are kept in a shady area, and if your flock is showing signs of heat stress, consider adding electrolytes to the water to give them a little boost.
3) Mind the Treats
Did you know that some treats can actually increase a chicken’s body temperature? High-carb treats like dry, cracked corn and scratch can increase a chicken's body heat as they work to digest them. During the hottest days, avoid providing cracked corn and scratch and opt for more refreshing treats such as watermelon and other fruits and veggies, or try giving them frozen treats instead!
If you’ve never given your flock frozen treats, now is the time. Our girls love when we bring out little pucks of frozen treats on a hot day. This doesn’t need to be complicated. Last week I had a bag of salad greens that were past their prime. Rather than throw them away, I chopped up the greens, divided them into muffin tins, covered them with water, and froze them.
4) Freeze Their Feed
Even in the heat, your flock needs to eat their usual feed. To encourage this, try freezing their feed for an hour or so before putting it. When chickens consume frozen food (including frozen treats), having cold material in their crop can help to lower their body temperature from within.
5) Splish Splash
You can lower a chicken's body temperature by keeping its feet cool. If it’s truly scorching outside, consider adding a kiddy pool to your run for your chickens to enjoy. Not all flocks will take to wadding, but those that do will definitely find a reduction in heat.
6) Through the Mist
Adding moisture to the air or ground around the coop and run will lower the surrounding temperature. Therefore, setting up a mister system is one effective way to help keep your chickens cool. We bought a simple misting system at Walmart this year for less than $20, and it took less than 20 minutes to set up. Alternatively, use lawn sprinklers nearby or simply spray down the ground with a hose on occasion.
7) Mind the Deep
During the winter months, we use the Deep Litter Method to help provide residual heat and keep the flock warm But, this is less than ideal during the summer months. When it’s hot outside, keep the coop as clean and tidy as possible, and avoid putting in litter that is more than 2” deep.
8) Ventilate the Coop
It is always recommended to provide good ventilation inside a chicken coop, but even more so in hot conditions. Ensure your coop has screened (but predator-proof!) openings that allow for a nice cross-breeze. If temps are really running high, some chicken keepers even opt for adding fans to the run to keep a breeze flowing.
Keeping it Cool
We hope our list of 8 ways to keep your flock cool has given you some great tips for reducing heat stress in your chickens this summer. Did I forget any good tricks you use to keep your flock cool in the summer? Tell us all about them and your heat-beating success stories. Drop a comment below, tag me on Instagram or Facebook. And, as always, until next time,