When temperatures reach the 80s, we slow down. We put on our shorts and flip flops, sit by the pool, and sip on a margarita. We need to help our chickens to do the same. They don’t do well in hot weather, and can even die of heat stress. Chickens don’t have sweat glands like us, so it’s hard for them to cool down. It’s through their comb and wattles that they dissipate most of their body heat. These organs are full of veins for the overheated blood to pass through and cool down in contact with the air. Chickens without feathers on their legs and feet can also dissipate heat that way.
When the temperature rises above 85°F, check your chickens a few times a day. Look for any signs of heat stress. Is she panting (walking around with her beak open)? Are her wings spread away from her body? Is she eating less? Is she laying on the ground more than usual? Is she still laying eggs? In case of heat stroke - if she looks lethargic, droopy, has a pale comb - bring her inside your house near the AC. If your house isn’t cool enough, put her up to her neck in a bucket of cool water.
Here are a few things you can do to prevent heat stress.
Keep the hen house cool by locating it under the trees and having good ventilation. Add a fan if necessary. Insulate the roof to reduce radiant heat from the sun. Provide shade in their roaming area with trees, bushes, umbrellas, or canopies.
Use evaporation to cool the environment. Hose down the outside walls and roof of the hen house to keep it cool. Water the soil in the chicken area, so the chickens can lay and take a dust bath in the cool soil. Install misters around the place they like to hangout. Make a puddle or provide them with a shallow pool, so they can stand in it and cool down via their feet.
Make sure to keep them hydrated. Chickens won’t drink water if it’s too warm, so provide them with cool water and change it frequently. You can even add ice blocks in their water. If you use nipples for water, add a regular waterer to encourage more drinking. Add waterers in the shade where they hang out, so it doesn’t require much extra effort to get a drink. Important note: Do not put vinegar in their water during hot weather. But you can provide sodium bicarbonate in it (¼ cup baking soda per gallon of water) or offer an electrolyte supplement to reduce the effects of heat stress. Avoid giving them treats like corn and scratch during a heat wave as digestion will increase their body temperature. Provide them with frozen fruits and veggies. Berries, grapes, watermelon, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, zucchinis... work well. They love it and it will help them stay cool. Happy summer!