By Tiffany Towne, Nutrena® Poultry Expert – Some people love a summer heat wave, or for that matter, sweating it out in a sauna. Not backyard chickens. For our feathered friends, steamy summer days can mean trouble. But the right care can help your girls keep their cool and stay productive throughout the season. Here’s how to keep chickens cool in extreme heat.
Do Chickens Sweat?
Flock owners often wonder: Do chickens sweat to keep cool? The answer is chickens cannot sweat, making them much more susceptible to overheating. Chickens normally lose heat as warm blood flows through the comb, wattles and limbs, then cools, and is returned to the body’s interior. Problems occur in extreme heat when the chicken’s temperature (on average 102 – 103 degrees F) cannot be reduced by this method. Without relief, heat stroke, low egg productivity, or death can occur.
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Heat Stroke Symptoms
Just like humans, chickens can tell us a lot through body language. Some symptoms of an uncomfortable or overheated chicken include:
• Wings spread to its sides to release extra heat
• Loss of appetite
• Lethargic/less active
• Diarrhea from increased water intake
When a hen eats less chicken feed, it may be at risk for ingesting fewer nutrients than are required for healthy, productive birds. At a minimum, this causes weight loss, a drop in egg production, or eggs with poor shell quality or shell-less eggs. Worst case, it leads to an unhealthy bird that’s more susceptible to disease.
Hot Weather Care Tips
There are ample ways to protect your birds and keep your flock happy.
A hydrated bird is able to regulate its temperature more efficiently and keep its egg production up. An egg is almost 75 percent water so keeping this nutrient available is essential for egg production. A fresh supply of cool, clean water is a necessity year-round, but especially in the heat of summer. Have more than one source of water, so chickens don’t have to move far or fight to get it.
Chicken coops and runs should be partially shaded if possible, even if it’s just a simple tarp or piece of cardboard. But keep it big enough so that birds aren’t huddling in a small space. Chickens without shade tend to stay inside, away from cooling breezes. If you have darker birds, they’ll need more shade to stay cool and reduce fading, since they don’t reflect sunlight like light birds. Conversely, white birds may take on a “brassy” appearance from having their feathers exposed to too much sun. Also, keep in mind that in hot, dry climates, strong sun, combined with high heat and low humidity dries out feathers. They become brittle and susceptible to breakage.
Proper ventilation is a must. It provides comfort by removing moisture, ammonia and other gases, and provides an exchange of air. Mesh-covered windows let air in and keep chicken predators out. A wire mesh screen doors helps keep the coop cooler at night. Increase circulation with a fan. Also, installing a reliable thermometer to monitor heat conditions is a great idea.
• Coop Design
Who doesn’t like a breeze on a hot day? If possible, the windows on your coop should be south facing. This will help with warmth in the winter and dryness (and less rot) during the rest of the year. Also, paint your coop a lighter color, so it reflects, rather than retains, heat.
• Dust Baths
Chickens love taking dust baths and working the cool dirt particles into their feathers. Most chickens will simply roll around in a dusty spot in a garden bed or raw dirt patch. Soil, mulch, and sand will also work. If your chickens are confined, you can make a great dust bath for them by filling a shallow container (like a kitty litter box) with your chosen material. Your chickens will be happier and cleaner if you provide a good dust bathing area for them.
Provide chilled or frozen summer treats. Create your own giant popsicle by floating fruit in a bowl of water and freezing. Chickens also love fresh fruits and veggies from the garden (who doesn’t?). As with all treats, don’t overdo it. Feed no more than 10 percent of the total diet in treats, and make sure a complete commercial ration is the main source of food. This way, your birds will still get the much-needed vitamins, minerals, energy and protein that the layer ration provides, but with the added bonus of a cool summertime treat! Avoid high starch grains, such as corn, which heat up a chicken’s body temperature during digestion.
• Low Stress
Keep stress levels down and avoid getting your birds all worked up. Give them plenty of room to stay calm, cool and quiet. No one wants to “play chase” or be held on a scorching day.
Now you know how to keep chickens cool in extreme heat. Remember, with the right cool-down care, your flock – and you – can enjoy the rest of your summer.
Helpful resources: Find a Nutrena® dealer near you at www.NutrenaPoultryFeed.com, subscribe to the Nutrena® poultry blog at ScoopFromTheCoop.com, and sign up for Flock Minder at www.FlockMinder.com to receive timely tips delivered directly to your inbox.