Welcome to Royal Rooster

Chicken Behaviour

  • How to Keep Chickens Cool in Summer | Chicken Coop Tips

    While chickens are fairly robust animals, summer can be fatal for your feathered flock. It’s important that all backyard chicken owners are able to identify when their chickens are in distress and what to do about it. As chickens are unable to sweat, they use other ways to try to reduce their body temperature in summer.

    panting chicken Chickens panting in hot weather

    Chickens will pant when they are hot to try to remove moisture from their bodies by evaporation. They also hold their wings out slightly to get cool air closer to their bodies. If you visit your chicken coop and find your chickens looking lethargic and their combs are faded and dry, it may already be too late as they are likely experiencing heat stress. The best thing is to be proactive before the harsh summer weather arrives with the following tips to ensure your chicken coop is summer-ready!

    1. Provide a cool supply of fresh water

    The most important thing when it’s hot is that your chickens have a clean supply of fresh water in their chicken coop. They drink more than you’d expect in summer (around 500ml) which can be twice as much as in the cooler months. If you think about the water component in eggs (75%) and how moist their manure is, it’s no wonder that water is so important. Chickens also need water for regulating body temperature and for their digestion. A lack of water can result in stress for your chickens, which will then impact their egg production.

    chicken drinker Chicken with a clean supply of cool water

    Make sure your chicken drinker or waterer has a nice wide opening at the top. You can then insert a freezer block or a frozen soft drink bottle filled with ice to keep the water cool. The freezer block can be replaced daily. If your chickens are allowed out of their chicken coop to free range in your yard, position your drinkers as close to the area where they tend to sit in hot weather. In our case that would be their favourite bush outside our bedroom window, where there is shade and the soil is cool.

    2. Make sure there is adequate chicken coop ventilation

    I recently wrote another article about chicken coop ventilation to highlight the importance of ventilation in both summer and winter. Many people think that as long as their chickens are not in direct sunshine, then they will be fine. Some chicken coops on the market have only a small door for the chickens to come and go from their housing area and very little ventilation to let the hot air escape. Again, chickens need more ventilation than perhaps you may realise.

    coop with ventilation A chicken coop with side ventilation panels and third side completely removed for maximum ventilation

    Ideally you want a coop that allows for an entire side or wall of the housing area to be removed in summer to allow for maximum ventilation. Positioning your coop under the shade of a tree will also help but it’s the ventilation that’s often overlooked.

    3. Frozen treats for cool chicks!

    When it’s very hot, it’s not a good idea to give your chickens lots of treats such as meal worms or sunflower seeds, as these will increase their body temperature with digestion. The exception is with cool or frozen treats such as berries, zucchini, corn or watermelon. Our chickens get quite excited when they see us delivering some watermelon to their chicken coop. At summer time, a frozen slice is even more welcome as a refreshing treat for your birds. You can get creative and put fruit and water in ice cube trays to freeze or you can simply give the chickens the entire piece of frozen fruit or vegetable to peck at.

    4. Provide a dust bath to keep cool

    The reason why our chickens’ favourite place in hot weather is the bush outside our bedroom window is because the soil under the bush is in the shade and loose enabling them to have a wonderful time ‘bathing’ in this dirt, to access the cooler earth below. Chickens use dust baths to reduce their body temperatures as well as to help deal with mites or lice that might be bothering them. Even if you do not have a very large chicken coop, it is important that you provide access to a dust bath. Loose dirt or sand is best in hot weather so that they don’t have to use up too much energy trying to create an appropriate dust bath.

    5. Bucket of water or hose just in case!

    If you notice a particular chicken really struggling in the hot weather, panting and drooping, then give them a quick dip in a bucket of water, making sure you keep their head above the water! Sometimes a chicken just won’t do what it should to keep cool and decide that the hottest part of a chicken coop is the best place to sit. If possible, block of these areas so they simply can’t make bad choices! Sometimes forcing them to cool down may be necessary to save their life. Some backyard chicken owners like to spray their chickens with the hose or use a mister to keep them cool. It’s quite fun to watch chickens enjoying the relief from the hot weather.

    Helpful Links:

    • UK Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs – Heat Stress in Poultry
    • View our range of chicken coops at Royal Rooster which offer great ventilation in hot weather

    (Article updated November, 2016)

  • 5 Tips for Adding New Chickens To Your Backyard Flock

    If you’re thinking of adding a few new spring chickens to your backyard flock to boost the egg count, here are 5 tips to make the transition process as easy as possible for you, your older hens and the new additions.

    Most people are familiar with the concept of a 'pecking order' in chicken society. Many people however, do not realise the implications of adding new chickens to an existing flock, which has previously established each member's place within the chicken hierarchy.

    Inside CR2 smallYou might not realise it, but chickens know whom they are allowed to pick on (those beneath them in the hierarchy) and which other chickens they must be submissive to. Adding new chickens throws the hierarchy into confusion, with a new order needing to be established. During this phase, fighting will occur amongst the chickens in order to determine who is submissive and who is dominant, and in the end, which bird will be the 'top chook'.

    1. Use two coops side by side

    If you happen to have two chicken coops (or chicken tractors) or are able to borrow a small coop for a week or two, you have the option of putting your new chickens in this second coop, which can then stand alongside your main coop. This gives both groups of chickens the opportunity to get familiar with each other, without any physical contact. After a week or so, you can then integrate the new chickens into the main coop. While it's likely that there'll be some fighting, it will be less intense due to the precautionary, 'familiarization' stage that you've undertaken.

    2. Introduce new chickens at night-time

    It has also been found that introducing new chickens to a flock at night-time can help to minimize the fighting that occurs. Grab a torch and place the newest additions amongst the older chickens on the perches. At night-time the chickens are less likely to start a fight to establish the pecking order. In the morning, the chickens seem to be less aware of the new additions.

    3. Distract birds with special treats

    If night-time isn't a practical time for you to integrate your chickens, you can at least take measures to distract the older chickens while you introduce the new birds. Feed the chickens some fruit or veggie scraps, fresh weeds or grain to keep them busy and less aware of what is happening.

    DSCF16124. Add chickens of a similar size/ age

    Also keep in mind that there will be less fighting if you introduce new chickens that are of a similar age or at least a similar size to your older hens. If your new chickens are considerably younger and therefore smaller, they will almost certainly be picked on by older chickens and less able to defend themselves. The closer the chickens are in size/ age the less fighting that will take place.

    5. Don't add a second rooster

    Remember that one rooster will rule the roost. If you're thinking of adding a second rooster to your flock, you might like to think again. Roosters are quite possessive of the chickens in their coop and will fight with the new rooster, even to death, to eliminate the threat of this new male in their environment.

    Practically it really isn't necessary to have several roosters, as one can adequately 'service' quite a number of chickens for fertilization purposes. I'm sure many owners of backyard chickens would also agree, that one very early morning wake up call is quite adequate - two roosters belting out a tune at 6am would be too much for you and your neighbours to take, no matter how much you love your backyard chickens!

  • Who Rules the Roost in your Chicken Coop?

    If you've ever found the time to sit and observe the interactions of backyard chickens, you'll no doubt understand where the term 'pecking order' originated. While you might debate who 'rules the roost' in your home or workplace, you can be sure that there is a clear 'King' or 'Queen' that dominates your backyard chicken coop.

    white chicken2The concept of a 'pecking order' was coined back in the 1920s by biologists who discovered that backyard chickens maintain a hierarchy with one chicken pecking another of lower status. In the absence of a rooster, one particular chicken will dominate all others. The 'pecking order' concept was transferred to human behavior in the 1950s.

    Chicken domination

    While owners of backyard chickens may not be aware of such a hierarchy, the chickens most definitely know their place in the coop society. If you have chickens in your backyard, take a moment to simply look at the condition of their feathers. There will be one chicken that will stand out with its beautiful crop of feathers entirely intact.

    If you take a little more time to sit and watch the action in your chicken coop, you'll see that this 'top chook' has been given the right to peck any other chicken in the flock, with no retaliation. While you may not be able to make out the order entirely, there is a definite hierarchy.

    In flightEach chicken knows whom they are allowed to dominate and whom they need to step aside for in terms of eating first and having the privilege of the best laying boxes and perches. The favourite laying boxes and perches are generally those that are the highest in the chicken coop, and therefore the greatest distance away from predators.

    Chicken coop introductions

    If you've just taken the step to acquire backyard chickens or are about to do so, be prepared for a short period of intense fighting between your new pets. This fighting determines whether a chicken is dominant or submissive and therefore where they sit in the pecking order.

    Interestingly, if you remove a chicken from a well-established flock for only a day and then put that bird back in the chicken coop again, fighting amongst the entire flock will reoccur to re-establish the appropriate pecking order. This is also found to occur when a chicken is injured, with their place in the pecking order significantly down-graded as a result.

    Adding New Chickens

    Of course when you add new chickens to an existing flock of chickens the pecking order needs to be re-established. While it's unlikely that you will be able to prevent fighting completely during this phase of introduction, it pays to try some of the strategies that have been found to help your old and new chickens get to know each other. This includes introducing new chickens at night-time; distracting older birds with treats; and using two coops for a short period side by side (see other articles on this topic coming soon!).

     

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