Did you know that heat is more stressful on chickens than cold?
That’s not to say I don’t worry about my chickens when the temperatures drop below zero during the long Iowa winter. But they have ways to stay warm. On the coldest of days, they stay inside, huddled together with their feathers fluffed up to trap their body heat. And I provide a little assistance in the form of an infrared bulb on the coldest of nights
It’s much harder for them to find relief from the summer heat.
Chickens don’t sweat, which is how we humans stay cool. Instead, like dogs, they use their respiratory systems. You can tell that a chicken is hot when it pants and holds its wings away from its body.
Hazel is hot:
So is Marigold:
When temperatures reach the 90s and above, chickens run the risk of heat stroke. Heat stroke can lead to death.
If a chicken is lethargic, seems confused, or is non-responsive, you should take immediate measures to lower its body temperature. Dunk its feet and legs in cool (not cold) water, wet its comb, bring it into air conditioning, and provide electrolytes.
Of course, the best defense against the summer heat is to take proactive measures to keep your chickens from overheating in the first place.
Here are four things you can do to help your chickens beat the summer heat, even on the hottest of days.
1. Beat the summer heat with cool shade
Shade is crucial.
Hopefully, you took my advice to locate your chicken pen in a partially shaded area. And, hopefully, that shaded area is large enough to accommodate the entire flock throughout a hot, sunny day.
If the only shade in the pen is the space under a small elevated coop and you have more than a couple of birds, your chickens don’t have enough shade. A good rule of thumb is to allow at least three to five square feet of shade per bird.
If your shaded space is lacking, you need to create more shade. Without the ability to retreat to the shade on a hot summer day, your chickens – especially those with dark feathers – won’t stand a chance against the sun.
You can provide shade by installing corrugated metal roofing or even a light-colored tarp above the pen. You also can plant vegetation around the pen to provide shade. Although my chicken pen is covered by the screen porch and deck above it, I grow vining plants like melons, cucumbers, and peas outside the fence on the south side of the pen to provide additional shade during the afternoon.
2. Beat the summer heat with cold water
Access to plenty of fresh, cold water is a must.
On hot summer days, drinking water helps chickens cool themselves from the inside out. While they may not drink much at any one time, they drink often. Chickens can drink up to three cups of water a day.
Water temperature is important. Chickens don’t care for warm water. But they don’t like it icy cold, either. To keep water at just the right temperature on a hot day, place the waterer out of the sun. On really hot days, it helps to add some ice to the reservoir.
And don’t forget to change the water frequently. Water founts can get scummy quickly in the heat of the summer. Clean and rinse the waterer daily, and scrub it out with a stiff-bristled brush and a chlorine bleach-water solution at least weekly.
Cold water isn’t just for drinking. Standing in a shallow pan of cool water gives chickens a way to cool down instantly. If you have small chicks, make sure to keep the water shallow and provide some pebbles for the chicks to stand on to prevent accidental drowning.
A three-gallon galvanized steel utility pan makes a great chicken wading pool:
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3. Beat the summer heat with chilled treats
Cool as a cucumber.
Chilled cucumbers, along with watermelon, cantaloupe and other produce with high water content, are a great way to help your chickens stay cool and hydrated in the summer heat. Plus, the chickens love them.
Refrigerate the produce first to chill it (as opposed to feeding it to the chickens right out of the garden when it is warm from the sun), then cut it in half lengthwise. The chickens will eat flesh right down to the peel or the rind.
You also can provide frozen treats like blueberries, strawberries, canned mixed vegetables, and oatmeal. Use treats that you know your chickens love to tempt their appetites on really hot days. Simply freeze the treats in ice cube trays with a little water. The chickens will peck at the ice to get to the treat, cooling and hydrating themselves in the process.
Note: Avoid giving chickens scratch or cracked corn on hot days because digesting these foods causes their body temperature to rise and increases the risk of overheating.
4. Beat the summer heat with a cool breeze
If your chicken pen has access to electricity, use it!
I use an oscillating fan in the chicken pen during the summer. During the hot afternoons, all of the girls generally can be found lounging in front of the fan. And on those hot summer nights when there is no relief from the heat, I aim the fan at the coop to give them a cooling breeze while they sleep.
I’ve tried open air nesting boxes, but my hens don’t seem one bit interested in them, preferring the indoor nesting box. To keep them from getting too hot while they are inside doing their business, I open the back door of the coop (the people access door) to get a good cross breeze going and prop the top of the nesting box open for a little extra circulation.
How do your chickens beat the summer heat?