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Monthly Archives: October 2015

  • 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)

  • Why it's Crucial to Ventilate your Chicken Coop

    Most backyard chicken owners will realise the importance of having their chicken coop well ventilated in hot weather. Fewer would realise that ventilation is still very important when it's freezing outside and even when snow is falling!

    coop with weather panels A chicken coop with protection in winter but still adequate ventilation.

    Chickens generate a great deal of moisture, both from the water vapour from their breath as well as from their manure. It may not occur to you that chickens don't really urinate as such, but produce very moist manure. Chicken manure is 75-80% moisture. They produce much more moisture than many would expect. As such, their chicken coops can easily get quite humid from the heat and moisture they produce. Damp air holds germs and viruses which can then lead to respiratory problems in your chickens.

    Ventilation in Winter

    Respiratory illness and frostbite on a chickens’ comb or waddle are the biggest issues that result from not having adequate ventilation in a chicken coop during winter. Chickens can actually cope quite well in very cold temperatures if the air in their chicken coop is dry. If you live in such a cold climate that you think insulation of your chicken coop is necessary, then it's even more important to make sure you have enough ventilation as insulating your coop can trap moisture and actually make the situation worse for frostbite. Chickens actually wear a heavy feather coat in winter, so unless you live in a very cold area, then insulation is not often necessary.

    Ammonia Fumes

    Unless you want to be removing all the manure as your chickens make their 'deposits' then there will be some ammonia released into your chicken coop. Ventilating your coop takes away the ammonia which can cause damage to the tissues of a chicken's respiratory system at surprisingly low levels. If you can smell the ammonia, then more ventilation is needed. A mobile chicken coop is also a good solution as moving the coop to new areas, means that there is not the opportunity for the mature to build up to such a degree.

    Draft versus Adequate Ventilation

    The main thing in winter is to prevent chilling due to direct wind but still allowing enough ventilation to take away the moisture in the air and the ammonia fumes. A coop should be tight enough to keep the wind out but ventilated near the top to let the fumes out. A nice bedding of straw or wood shavings will help retain warmth in the bottom of a chicken coop. Chickens' have an insulating layer of warm air between their feathers and their body, trapped in their down. If a direct breeze is blowing on them, this insulating air is not retained and the chickens will get cold.

    A removable ‘weather shield’ is a good way of further enclosing your chicken house in winter but allows you to easily ventilate your coop in summer.

    Summer Heat & Ventilation

    coop with ventilation A chicken coop with side ventilation panels and central 'wall' completely removed for maximum ventilation

    Australian summers can be very severe and chickens don't always chose the best place to stay out of the heat. Once we had an old chicken shed where the chickens were housed and some decided that the back corner of the shed where it was the hottest and least ventilated was actually the best place to sit. Of course that didn't end well, poor chickens! We've learnt that ventilation is so very important for your chickens and heat stress is a very real thing with very sad consequences.

    It's best if a chicken’s body temperature is around 23-27 degrees Celsius as they start having problems if they get up as high as 32 degrees (90 Fahrenheit). Larger breeds with more feathers also find the warm weather more difficult. Ventilation, extra shade if possible and of course a constant supply of water are essential in summer.

    What sort of Ventilation?

    The easiest and most cost effective form of ventilation is passive ventilation. This simply means that you have openings with cross ventilation so the air naturally works is way inside your chicken coop.

    Unfortunately many chicken coops on the market have not factored in adequate ventilation. You need more ventilation than you'd think. If you have a four-sided housing section for your chickens, you'd want at least one whole side of the house to be removed in summer, especially in Australia. Ideally it would be good to have further sections that allow for ventilation or a raised floor that also allows for air-flow would be ideal. A chicken coop that claims that it’s insulated doesn’t necessarily mean that the coop is well ventilated. These are two different things.

    Check out the range of chicken coops made by Royal Rooster that are well ventilated and also offer winter protection.

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