Raising chickens is fun but can be very challenging, too.
Summer feels hotter and longer every year. And during this season, you will notice that your hens lay fewer eggs. They also tend to eat less but drink more.
As you most likely know by now, chickens need at least 12 hours of daylight a day if you want them to lay eggs. In most cases, they need artificial light during winter.
On the other hand, extreme heat also poses risks to them. The body temperature of chickens must be reduced as fast as possible.
Nevertheless, you should also understand that if your chickens already have some health problems, the external high temperature will amplify the illness.
As a responsible poultry owner, you should know what to do to help them beat the summer heat. Otherwise, it can lead them to a lot of serious health issues and sometimes, death.
And as you read along, you will also learn the essential factors to consider before taking any action. This is very important to make sure that your chickens are safe.
Table of Contents
- 1 How Do Chickens Cool Themselves?
- 2 How Hot Is Too Hot For Chickens?
- 3 Which Chicken Breeds Are Tougher Against Heat Stress?
- 4 Signs That Your Chickens Are Suffering From Heat Stress
- 5 How You Can Help Your Chicken Fight Heat Stress
- 5.1 Provide shade and more shades
- 5.2 Provide Proper Ventilation
- 5.3 Add Ice on Their Water
- 5.4 Provide a Mister System But With Extreme Caution
- 5.5 Give electrolyte drinks but with caution
- 5.6 Give Cooling Herbs
- 5.7 Give Them Proper Treats
- 5.8 Provide a Shade on Dust Bath
- 5.9 Set Up a Wadding Pool (or Kiddie Pool)
- 5.10 Dunk Them But With Extra Precaution
- 5.11 Clean Your Coop (No Deep Litter Method)
- 6 Conclusion
How Do Chickens Cool Themselves?
We, humans sweat which evaporates from our bodies to make us cool. On the other hand, chickens don’t sweat. Instead, they use evaporation through their respiratory system. When water vapors from their lungs, they can now cool themselves.
Chickens are homeothermic (warm-blooded) animals which means they can maintain a relatively constant body temperature. To make them feel comfortable and active, the outside temperature should be between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit.
On the other hand, they are also endotherms. This means that they use their feathers to regulate their body temperature. During colder months, they act as insulators. This is why they are more problematic during hotter months.
Chickens can also keep themselves cool once they hold their wings away from their bodies. This allows the trapped heat to be ready for release. However, they pant heavily while doing this, and could be a sign that heat stress is getting worse.
However, they may find it difficult to cool when the humidity level in the air is more than 50 percent. This is because the atmosphere has been heavily saturated with moisture. This is also why they are prone to heat stress in extremely high temperatures.
How Hot Is Too Hot For Chickens?
The normal body temperature of adult chickens is between 105°F and 107°. On the other hand, newly hatched chicks usually have a body temperature of about 103.5°F. Their temperature increases gradually and becomes stable when they are about 3 weeks old.
Roosters have higher body temperatures than hens, probably because they have larger muscle mass and higher metabolism. You should also understand that free-range chickens have higher body temperatures than those in cages.
When chickens are at a comfortable temperature, they lose heat through their areas without feathers such as comb and wattles. But once the temperature increases, the heat evaporates so they start to pant heavily. And because chickens don’t have sweat glands, excessive panting can lead to dehydration and electrolytes imbalance.
As a general rule, you should cool chickens when their body temperatures reach 80°F. Once it reaches 90°F and above, it is now too hot for them and can lead to heat stress. Aside from the negative effects on chickens, you can also expect smaller eggs, thinner eggshells, and most especially, a huge reduction in egg production.
Which Chicken Breeds Are Tougher Against Heat Stress?
All chicken breeds are prone to heat stress but if you are living in hotter areas, you may want to choose chicken breeds that are tougher against heat stress. These breeds have smaller bodies but with bigger combs and wattles which act as air conditioners to help reduce heat from their bodies.
This is because combs and wattles have a high concentration of capillaries that circulate body heat, close to the skin surface. Therefore, larger combs and wattles have a wider surface area to release heat, thus cooling the chicken’s body.
Below is a huge list of heat-tolerant chickens:
- Barred Rock Bantam
- Black Faced White Spanish
- Black Sumatra
- Blue Andalusian
- Blue Hamburg
- Easter Egger
- Egyptian Fayoumi
- Exchequer Leghorn
- Golden Campine
- Golden Lakenvelder
- Mille Fleur d’Uccle Bantam
- Plymouth Rocks
- Rhode Island Red
- Sicilian Buttercup
- Silver Lakenvelder
- Silver Spangled Hamburg
- White Crested Black Polish
- White Leghorns
Generally speaking, the tolerance against heat depends on the characteristics of the individual chicken. But if you want to play safe, you may want to avoid these breeds.
- Cornish Cross
- Jersey Giant
Signs That Your Chickens Are Suffering From Heat Stress
Heat stress is additional stress to your chickens because of the increase in their body temperatures. This is why you should monitor them closely especially during summertime.
To help your out, here are some major signs and symptoms that you should be aware of:
- If your chickens are panting like a dog with their mouths open. You will also notice that they move their tongues up and down
- If your chickens lose appetite or became less interested to eat and are always thirsty.
- If your chickens spread their wings and lift their feathers. They do this to allow air to enter their bodies.
- If your chickens have diarrhea or watery droppings. This means that there is a huge loss of electrolytes inside their bodies. This is also the result of drinking too much water but with less food intake
- If their combs and wattles turn pale or appear to be discolored. This usually happens to heavy chickens.
- If your chickens start to move slower or reduce their activities. Heat stress causes them to be lethargic and less energetic.
- If your hens reduce or stop laying eggs. Eggs consist of 76 percent water, and dehydration causes them not to develop. Calcium is also very important in producing strong eggshells.
How You Can Help Your Chicken Fight Heat Stress
With all the signs of heat stress mentioned above, the best preventive measure is to make your chickens cool down during summer. Here’s what you should immediately do:
Provide shade and more shades
Providing enough shades is one of the most important measures you should immediately do. To provide the most appropriate shades, you should know where the sun positions at.
If your chickens are free-range, make sure there are trees to hide under. Also, your coops are not necessarily shaded areas. You should also provide enough shades for them.
Provide Proper Ventilation
You may have already ventilated your coops even before summer arrived. However, this might be enough against extreme heat.
You may want to build wired windows and doors to help air circulate and to allow the breeze to move freely through the coop. Just make sure they are safe from predators.
If you can afford to add your electricity bill, placing an electric fan can also help.
Check if there is sufficient space for everyone. Overcrowded coops may not only cause fighting but also an additional factor of heat.
Ideally, a chicken can move comfortably within a 4-square foot of space.
Add Ice on Their Water
Aside from providing them enough water, you can also add ice to their waterer. This can help a lot in cooling the bodies.
However, don’t give ice cubes to them directly. Remember that their body temperature is high and cooling it down right away is not good.
They may cool down for a while but will heat up again. If this happens over and over again, it can also lead to heatstroke.
This can also happen if you give them excessively cold treats or frozen water bottles.
You should also avoid putting ice on their water or giving extremely cold water regularly.
But if you can’t help it, freeze them first for about an hour before giving them to your chickens.
Provide a Mister System But With Extreme Caution
Having a standalone mister system inside your coop may also help fight against heat stress to your chickens during summer. If you don’t have one, you can also use sprinklers.
Both of them are capable of reducing the surrounding air temperature by up to 20°F while adding moisture in the air and ground around the coop. In short, they can also provide better humidity control.
Note, however, that chickens have feathers instead of gills. This means that they should not be wet just to cool them off. Their feathers allow air to follow, and if they are wet, they may not be able to release heat.
Hens are also not fond of dripping water unless they want to drink. Therefore, it might affect their egg production.
But if you still want to use a mister or sprinkler, do it but with extra precaution. So instead of opening it continuously, use a preset time interval.
The frequency of usage also depends on the ages of the chickens and the outside temperature. Also, make sure that the sprinkled water will wet the birds and not the ground.
Give electrolyte drinks but with caution
Electrolyte drinks are best for dehydrated chickens. It’s like drinking Gatorade if you’re suffering from diarrhea.
But as a safety reminder, never give it to them if they’re not sick.
Again, chickens don’t sweat. We, humans, lose electrolytes when we sweat or we are sick.
Electrolytes have two functions – to rehydrate or to regulate the flow of water inside the body, and spark the nerve impulses.
So if your chickens are not dehydrated, they don’t need electrolyte drinks.
The electrolyte also contains salt, which can be extremely dangerous for chicken if consumed excessively.
Give Cooling Herbs
Giving cooling herbs to chickens during summer is probably the best natural way of cooling them. This includes peppermint, red clover, lemon balm, lemongrass, and sage.
These fabulous herbs are only ideal in cooling them but can also help them adjust to hot conditions in a natural way.
To maximize their effects, place them in their feeds or waterer so that they can freely eat or drink them.
Give Them Proper Treats
Aside from the usual food, chickens also love treats during summer. But of course, you don’t want to give treats that could be bad from time.
Some of the good treats for chickens during hotter days are watermelon, bananas, corn, strawberries, peas, as well as overripe apples. Probiotic smoothies are also great.
You may freeze the treats first but take extra precautions. As mentioned earlier, frozen foods and drinks may be harmful to them.
Giving your chickens excessive cold treats is like forcing their bodies to cool down. The abrupt cooling down is also temporary and their bodies will heat up again. Performing this action repeatedly can also lead to heat exhaustion.
Provide a Shade on Dust Bath
Dust bathing is the technique of chickens to clean themselves. As the name implies, they use dirt instead of water.
You will notice it once you see them digging the soil and throw a pile of dirt on their bodies. This also serves as their protection against parasites such as lice, mites, and fleas.
Although chickens know how to make their dust bath, it is better if you do it for them. Aside from dirt and sand, you can also put wood ash, peat moss, and some dried herbs.
During ordinary days, you may not need to put a cover on the dust bust. This is to provide the daylight they need, especially for egg-laying hens.
But when summer comes, you should provide a shade to protect your chicken from extreme heat. You might also want to put it under a tree.
Set Up a Wadding Pool (or Kiddie Pool)
Chickens don’t usually enjoy getting their feet wet, especially those with feathered feet such as Cochins and Brahmas.
But if your chickens have no feathers on their feet, you might want to set up a wadding pool (or kiddie pool) for them. It’s a cool way to make them cool, especially during summer.
At first, they might not like it. But once their feet touch the water, you might be surprised to see them there standing for a long time.
When adding water, make sure that only their feet will get wet. The ideal water level is between 1 to 2 inches high. You can also few, small pieces of ice to make the water cooler. As a safety precaution, too much ice may harm them if they intake it.
You can also add a few stones for them to step on. This will give them space if they want to stand still without getting their feet too wet.
If you think they don’t like it, try setting up a mud pool. Instead of water only, use some mud. As we all know, chickens love dirt. Therefore, they might also like to stand on muddy water.
Dunk Them But With Extra Precaution
Dunking chickens into the water may not be an agreeable solution to everyone and does not apply to all breeds. In short, this is the last thing you should do in the worst-case scenario.
Therefore, it is a suggestion only if your chickens are clearly showing signs of heat stress or unresponsive, and if you have already tried the other strategies but less effective or did not work at all.
First of all, never submerge the whole chicken in water. Instead, dip it only up to its shoulder and only for one minute. Take note that the only purpose is to help the body temperature to cool down slowly and steadily, especially for older hens.
You should NOT also use iced or extremely cold water. As mentioned several times earlier, the sudden change of body temperature can cause heatstroke, heart failure, or sudden death.
Also, remember that feathers don’t work well as insulators if they are wet. In short, they can be used as air coolers to move the air around the body. Therefore, it is very important to dry them right away after dipping.
Clean Your Coop (No Deep Litter Method)
Summer is the best time to clean your coop. This is to make your chickens feel more comfortable. This is also the time when bacteria multiples faster.
The litter inside your coop serves as an insulator. To prevent the trapping of heat inside the coop, reduce the bedding layer to not more than 2 inches deep.
While this method seems to be effective, there seems to be an endless debate whether “deep litter” should also be done during hot seasons or not.
As the name suggests, deep litter is letting litter inside the coop floor go deep and let them accumulate and decompose. The build-up litter will serve as an extra layer of insulation, which is great during the winter months.
So far, there have been no studies proving that doing deep litter during summer makes the coop any warmer. Yes, the litter breaks down faster in hotter months but it has no proven significant effects.
With that, spring is a great time to do the deep litter method, instead of summer.
It is therefore safe to safe to say beating the summer heat needs a lot of planning and preparations to avoid being caught off guard. The truth is, most of the techniques mentioned are practical and need no expertise.
All you need to understand is what chickens need to survive the heat. This is also why you should not raise chicken unless you’re not yet ready. Nature may have its way to cure animals. But as their owner, it is your job to protect them from any harm.