Summer Heat: How to Protect Your Flock
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 you ask?
Well here’s the deal, chickens run hot… their core body temperature is right around 102-104 degrees.
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?!
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!
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.
This type of landscape also gives them cover to hide from predators (like hawks, bonus)!
Photo: Raising Happy Chickens
If your flock is in secured in a run, make sure it also has adequate shade.
If there isn’t a solid roof, just drape a tarp over part of the wire 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).
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: 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!
To create Your Own Umbrella Dusting Station DIY like the photo below, click here. It features a great Treats For Chickens product called Pardon My Dust.
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).
Photo: Freedoms Phoenix
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!
Photo: H Laibach
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: 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!
Photo: Raising Happy Chickens
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.
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 in the winter to help them keep warm, avoid giving it to them in the summer, especially during the hottest part of the day.
But fresh corn is fine!
Photo: 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 to watch for in order of severity:
- Lifting their wings away from their body
- Panting or labored breathing. You’ll see them open their beaks; it almost looks like they’re yawning when they’re panting.
- Laying on the ground with their wings spread away from their body.
- Becoming lethargic.
(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 by searching online (just google “chicken saddle”) or if you like to sew, you can even make your own!
Photo: City Girl Farming
And there you have it - easy effective ways to keep your cluck-clucks cool in the summer heat!