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.
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.
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.
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.
- 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)