Hi Treats for Chickens community, it's me, Dawn!
As someone new to keeping backyard chickens, you may be wondering what special care chickens need in the heat of summer … well wonder no more! Just keep reading..
Chickens in general, can handle cold better than they can handle heat. Why do you ask?
Well, here’s the deal, chickens run hot… their core body temperature is right around 102-104 degrees Fahrenheit. For us, that would be like running around with a fever all the damn time.
Now imagine already being that hot and then being outside on a day in the high 80s, 90s, or above – yep, your chickens will need some help to stay cool, wouldn’t you?!
How hot of temperatures is “too hot” for chickens? In general, temperatures over 90 degrees increase the risk of heat stress and heat-related illness in chickens, including death. Prolonged hot temperatures combined with high humidity is an especially uncomfortable combination for chickens, ahnnd humans alike.
Unusual heat waves pose the most risk for heat stress to our flocks. Keep an eye on the weather forecast, monitor your chickens behavior, and be prepared to respond accordingly (and yes, that might even mean bringing your chicken indoors). Chickens that live in places with routinely hot conditions may become accustomed to the heat, and tolerate it better than those who are used to more temperate conditions.
Ways to Keep Chickens Cool in Hot Weather
1) Provide Fresh, Clean, Cool Water
The first and easiest thing you can do for your flock is to be sure they have fresh cool water available, in the shade.
Change the water at least once a day to make sure it stays nice and cool. You can add ice cubes as well!
2) Provide Shade
The next is to be sure they have adequate shade.
If they are allowed to free-range on your property, just be sure their area has plenty of bushes and shade trees that they can naturally seek out when its too hot. To see a list of plants I have planted in my run click here.
This type of landscape also gives them cover to hide from predators (like hawks, bonus)!
Photo credit: Raising Happy Chickens
If your flock is secured in a run, make sure the run has adequate shade.
If there isn’t a solid roof, drape a tarp over part of the roof.
Be sure to secure the tarp with clamps (you may think that tarp of yours is heavy enough that it doesn’t need securing, but trust me, a tarp flopping in the wind will be a guaranteed “oh shit WHAT was THAT?” moment for your chickens which they won’t be too happy about).
3) Provide a Shaded Dust Bath Space
On the topic of shade – chickens love to dust bathe. Not only because it feels good, but it also helps them control things like mites and lice.
Video credit: Courtesy of H Laibach
Pretty cool that they instinctively know to do that, right? Well, if their favorite spot to take a dust bath also happens to be in the hot sun – no bueño!
One simple way to give them a cool spot to dust bathe, is lightly hose down their spot with a gentle mist, just enough to cool the dirt, but not enough to make it a muddy mess. They’ll love flopping and flapping around in nice cool dirt.
You can also create a shaded dust bath with a simple DIY project. How cute is this ADORABLE dusting station? (how-to link below).
Not only does this give them that much needed shade while they dust bathe, it will protect their dust bath from rain too!
4) Use Misters (or Sprinklers)
Hey Mister! To Mist or Not to Mist… that is the question! If you live in an area that is consistently in the high 80s or above, consider adding a mister system to your run.
There are inexpensive DIY mister kits available at most hardware/big box stores like Lowes or Home Depot.
Some are very simple to install, just hook up to a garden hose, no electricity needed.
Install misters in shady areas. You can expect a temperature drop of as much as 20-30oF with a mister in your chicken yard (reference from Cool Off).
5) Healthy Cold Treats
Another fun way to help your chick-a-doodles stay cool and to keep them entertained is to provide chilled or iced treats for them.
You can start with a slice of chilled watermelon – it’s pretty much a guaranteed flock favorite! You can also add some sea kelp meal with certified organic Cluck'n Sea Kelp. Kelp contains Vitamins A, B, C, D, E and K, as well as calcium, iron, niacin, and Omega-3s. These minerals and vitamins are great cooling assistants for your flock. For example, vitamin C (ascorbic acid) plays an important role in reducing the effects of heat stress and heat exhaustion in poultry.
Making iced treats for them is also easy and fun. You can just use regular ice cube trays. Here are some great ideas using mint which naturally helps lower body temperature.
Strawberry with Mint and Blueberries with Mint:
Photos credit: Song of Style
Another great way to freeze treats that won’t melt as fast is to freeze an assortment in a Bundt cake pan!
You can also make up a batch of electrolyte water and freeze it in ice cube trays (you can pick up poultry electrolytes at most farm supply or feed stores).
Then periodically add the ice cubes to your chicken’s waterer – helps keep it cool and also gives them the extra benefit of electrolytes which their bodies go through faster in hot weather.
6) Limit or Avoid Certain Food
While we’re talking about treats – there are some types of treats that you should NOT feed in the heat of the day.
Specifically cracked corn and/or scratch (which often has a lot of cracked corn in it). The effort it takes for chickens to digest cracked corn can raise their body temperature.
So while cracked corn is great to give during cool days and seasons to help them keep warm or regulate their temperature, avoid giving it (such as Chicken Crack, Cluck Yea, Pullet Together, Gourd I Love You, and Molt Mender) to them in the summer's hottest part of the day.
But fresh corn is fine!
Photo credit: Alyonas Cooking
Now… let’s get serious for a nano-second…
Heat stress in chickens is no joke.
It can cause them to go off laying, to become lethargic, and in severe cases they can die from heat stroke.
Here are important WARNING signs of heat stress and heat stroke in chickens. Please watch out for them:
- Egg production may also decrease with prolonged heat exposure
- Lifting their wings away from their body
- Panting or labored breathing. You’ll see them open their beaks, often moving their tongues up and down. It almost looks like they’re yawning when they’re panting
- Laying on the ground with their wings spread away from their body
- Decreased appetite
- Pale or discolored combs and wattles
- Droopy and lethargic behavior
(Thanks to Vet Poultry.com for heat stress warning signs!)
If one of your chickens appears to be suffering in the heat, the quickest way to cool them down is to gently hold them in a basin filled with cool water (not cold, it will shock them). This will immediately help bring their body temperature back down.
What about sunburn?
If any of your chickens are missing feathers, either from an aggressive rooster, being picked on by other hens, or during molting, they can get sunburn.
You can make sure that particular hen is in the shade until feathers grow back, or you can also put on a “chicken saddle” …Yep, you heard me right. Not for riding, you silly goose!
For protecting raw exposed skin, often on their back.
You can find all kinds of fabric choices, but select fabric that is breathable such as cotton, linen, or silk. Then Google “chicken saddle” and see if there is a local provider of chicken saddles or if you like to sew, you can even make your own!
Photo credit: City Girl Farming
And there you have it - easy effective ways to keep your cluck-clucks cool in the summer heat! When things start to heat up, monitor them and respond in your best judgement and ability. If a chicken becomes alarmingly listless, a final resort is to bring them inside to the cooling comfort of your home. Bring them into a cool basement, or designate a spare bathroom as a temporary chicken sanctuary to keep your feathered friends safe. They’re relying on you, after all.
-Dawn, Treats for Chickens 🧡
Let's keep your flock happy + healthy!
Got something to cluck about? Have other suggestions? Questions?
Help fellow chicken parents and leave a comment below!