Heat exhaustion, heat stroke or even death is a very real danger to chickens when temperatures rise. They don’t sweat like humans do, and are somewhat limited in their ability to cool down. Lots of shade and cool water help immensely if you are wondering how to keep chickens cool in summer. You can also use homemade electrolytes. Chickens will pant to expel body heat and also hold their wings out from their bodies. Some of the more heat-tolerant heritage chicken breeds (mostly those originating in the Mediterranean) tend to be of smaller body stature, lighter in color and have very large combs — the comb on a hen or rooster acts as a radiator, letting excess heat escape from the body – but older hens, larger breeds, and black or dark-colored chickens often struggle more in the heat. The effects of heat exhaustion are cumulative, so several days of temperatures above a mere 80 degrees, especially with high humidity, can start to negatively affect your flock.
Signs of Heat Exhaustion
Sick chicken symptoms related to signs of potential heat exhaustion include rapid mouth breathing, drinking large amounts of water, not eating, reduced egg production, diarrhea, lethargy, unsteady gait, or lying down with eyes closed. If you suspect a chicken is suffering heat exhaustion, dunk her feet into a tub of cool water and bring her inside where it’s not as hot. Cooling a chicken’s feet and/or comb help to quickly, but safely, bring down her body temperature.
Administering electrolytes both as a preventive for your entire flock, or to treat an ailing hen, is a good idea. Much like runners or other athletes drink Gatorade during and after a race or sporting event, giving chickens electrolytes replenishes nutrients and minerals lost in extreme heat or under stressful conditions to boost the immune system, prevent the kidneys from malfunctioning, and keep the respiratory system working optimally.
Plain Pedialyte or Gatorade is an option for your chickens, or you can mix up your own homemade electrolytes using things you already have in your kitchen. Use the mixture full strength on a chicken suffering heat exhaustion — otherwise as a preventive, mix into their drinking water using a cup of electrolytes per gallon of cool water.
Homemade Electrolytes Recipe
1 cup water
2 teaspoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
Stir until the sugar and salt to dissolve and the mixture is combined.
Especially when caring for baby chicks, replacing the electrolytes lost during times of oppressive heat could mean the difference between life and death to your chickens, dogs, cats, horses and other animals.
Originally published in 2015 and regularly vetted for accuracy.