I have a light headache, my sinuses are congested, and my throat is itchy. No, it’s not covid nor the flu. It’s the smoke I have been inhaling for the last few weeks. With wildfires ravaging the west coast, ash has been falling from the sky for days. It was so thick that we didn’t see the sun for days!
Breathing these levels of smoke is highly unhealthy for all of us, how does this affect our chickens? They don't make little N95 masks for chickens, so how do we protect them?
Chickens’ respiratory system is very different from ours (see respiratory system) and is quite sensitive. They can experience respiratory distress and succumb to smoke inhalation. It’s therefore critical to monitor your chickens and act at the first sign of distress. The general signs of respiratory distress are:
Monitor your flock several times a day, and especially keep a close eye on the weakest ones.
Provide plenty of fresh water to help moisten their airways and wash particles away from their beak and nostrils. Change their water often so it's not contaminated, and cover their food so a minimum of ash falls in it.
Limit their physical activity and stress to limit the inhalation of unhealthy smoke. They will most likely do that by themselves. Provide extra food and water where they hang out to reduce the physical exertion of going back and forth to the waterer and feeder.
At the first sign of respiratory distress, bring them indoors where the air quality is better. If you have a big hen house / barn (with a minimum of 10 sqft per chicken), you may consider keeping the chickens inside with an air purifier. If the coop is too small or doesn’t have air filters, move them into your garage or in a room inside your house.
And finally, if you are in an area that has been directly affected by the fires, there are more issues to worry about. Depending of what’s burning, forest versus structures, the ash may be more or less toxic and thus may impact the soil, the fruits and vegetables you grow, and indirectly the eggs. You can find more information on the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources site including a study of contaminants in eggs after the October 2017 wildfires.