Keep Your Chickens Cool in the Summer Heat


Buff Orpington rooster trying to stay cool in the summer
 

Summer in the southern United States can be brutal on your chickens, but a heatwave in other areas of the country are just as deadly.


In one record-breaking humid summer day I lost five of my buff Orpington chickens to the heat, including a broody hen who refused to leave her eggs in the hot chicken coop.


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After that day I made a few changes, hoping to keep my "girls" safe in the summer heat. They've been pretty effective changes, and I hope they can help you and your chickens too.


Ventilation is the most important change you can make


The first thing I did that year was replace the solid wood door on the chicken coop with a screen door. It was easy to build, just four boards to form a rectangle, then covered with hardware cloth. I think it's the most effective thing I did. 


Now there is the screen door on the east side, and the sliding chicken-size door and a window on the west side so that there is a strong cross-breeze. 


In the winter, I replace that screen door with the original wood door.


When the Chief built the chicken coop, which is a modified shed structure, he designed it with open space where the rafters meet the walls on all four sides.


This allows ventilation but because it's high up, it doesn't create a draft that blows on the chickens, even when they're roosting on their perches about three feet off the ground. That was a design-win.


Location is important 


The window on the south wall is a large picture window that doesn't open. In the winter it provides great natural lighting and solar heat but it's not good in the summer. That was a design-fail! 


You see, we moved here from the upper Midwest, where it's more important to build for winter cold than for summer heat.


Even though we built the coop under a large and spreading oak tree, the sun beats on the coop from the south and the west. 


Instead of doing what we did, locate your coop and its windows to the best advantage. Put it under a tree, or in afternoon shade from a line of trees or another building.


And remember the rule of ventilation. Put windows on at least the opposing sides of the coop so you'll have a good cross-breeze in the summer.


To help cool the inside of our coop in the summer, I hang a black tarp on the inside of that south-facing window to help keep down the interior temperature during the hot summer.


Provide shade for the hens by adding a tarp over their outside run.


The chicken run


Our chicken run is located on the west side of the coop. It is covered in fencing wire, including the top. 


Unfortunately, the run is in full sun in the afternoon, although it does have the advantage of our strong summer breeze to help keep my chickens cool


That very hot summer I spread an old bed comforter on top of the chicken run. This gave the hens an open-air covered patio. Other summers I've covered the top of the run with garden shade cloth.


It's definitely not pretty, unless you take the comforter's pattern and color into consideration. I doubt the chickens care. But it does give them shade in the afternoon.


I also provide a summer wading pool for the chickens when it's really hot. 


Their pool is a shallow plastic tray that once upon a time was under a rabbit cage.


We fill it with water every morning to a depth of about an inch. My hens enjoy standing in the pool to cool off.


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In the summer I move the feeders and all but one of the waterers to a shady place in the outside run. This way the birds don't have to go in the hot coop to get a drink, so they are more likely to stay well-hydrated. 


Add an additional waterer if you can. I like these top-fill plastic waterers best, and have them in all three sizes: 3-gallon, 5-gallon and 7-gallon. My chickens never run out of water!


Provide access to cool water at all times when it's hot. Keep the waterer in the shade to keep the water cooler.


Add electrolytes to your chickens' water. Electrolytes replenish minerals and nutrients that chickens lose during hot weather and periods of stress, and support the kidneys. 


Powdered electrolytes are available at feed stores and online.


I let my hens "bob for bugs" in a puddle. Not only is it fun food, anything with cool water will help cool them down. 


The bug puddle is one of the ways I save money on chicken feed. You can find more tips in the post here.


Chickens chasing bugs


Caring for broody hens in the summer


Hens that are broody in the summer are a problem, especially in the hottest part of the season.


It's important to make sure your hen drinks enough water to stay hydrated, and that she has the opportunity to cool off.


Most broodies hate to leave their nest though, so you'll have to make sure she gets enough to drink and doesn't get overheated.


Keep a waterer near her nest. If it's just a few steps away, she'll be more willing to hop off the nest for a minute to get a drink.


Every time I go inside the coop I pick up the broody hen and put her down on the other side of the coop or better yet, out in the run. She'll get some needed exercise on her way back to the nest.


I make sure she'll pass the waterer on her way back, where she will hopefully linger for a few minutes to get a quick drink.


In extremely hot weather, you may have to move the hen and her eggs to a cooler area, even though she'll be madder than a wet hen if you do. 


She'll probably squawk and peck at you. But if you don't move her, you may lose her to heat stroke.


The safest way to move a broody hen is to pick her up from behind so it's harder for her to reach you with her beak. 


You can cover her head with a towel or t-shirt if needed. She'll settle down when it's "dark" and she can't see.


Signs of heat stress


Watch for these signs of stress in your chickens in hot weather:


  • Holding the wings away from the body
  • Rapid, labored breathing or panting
  • Pale comb
  • Acting lethargic, lying on her side
  • Convulsions


If you notice a chicken with one or more of these signs, take action immediately.


Treating heat stress in chickens


A standard-sized chicken's normal body temperature is high. It can vary between 105° and 107°F. Smaller breeds have an even higher body temperature.


Rhode Island red chicken


Because chickens have no sweat glands, hot weather can be extremely dangerous for them.


If you notice one of your birds panting or breathing hard, lifting its wings away from its body in an attempt to cool down, acting lethargic or even worse, suffering a seizure or convulsions, you need to act right away.


Move the chicken immediately out of the sun or out of the hot coop into the shade, and wet her down using cool water. 


Do not submerge her in a bucket of cold water as that will send her into shock and increase her chances of dying.


Continue sponging her with water, especially under her wings. Once she is calm and feeling cooler, keep her in a cool place for awhile before letting her return to the flock. 


Keep an eye on your chickens for a few more days to make sure others don't develop heat stroke too.


Tips to prevent heat stress


  • Provide shade for your chickens.
  • Locate the waterer in a shady place, not in the sun where the water will heat it up. 
  • Add an additional waterer or two.
  • Put ice cubes in the water in the heat of the day.
  • Avoid feeding corn during the hot summer months.
  • A treat of watermelon will help keep chickens cool.


Heat tolerant chicken breeds


Some chicken breeds can handle hot weather better than others - and some are better in cold weather than others too.


No matter where you live, take your climate into consideration and buy chickens that will thrive in your weather. 


And if you already have chickens, buy heat-tolerant chicks the next time you restock your flock.


In general, chickens with large combs do better in hot weather. 


Buff Orpington chicken


A chicken's comb cools its body. The numerous blood vessels in the comb are close to the skin, and as blood circulates through the comb it is cooled by the air. The blood then circulates through the body and heart, cooling down the bird.


The large comb (also known as a "single comb") is the most recognized type of chicken comb, and is what most people expect a chicken to have, but there are other types such as rose comb and pea comb. 


Cochins, Orpingtons, Leghorns, Sussex, Rocks, Minorcas, Australorps, Andalusians, Marans and many other breeds have the large single comb and are well-suited for hot weather. 


Small chickens can handle hot weather better than larger birds. Older birds are at higher risk of heat stroke.


Do what you can with what you have


It's easy to look back and realize what you could have done better. 


If I were to build a new coop, knowing what I know now, I would locate it in a place that had shade in the afternoon. I'd have working windows on both the east and west sides. I'd definitely not put a large picture window on the south side.


I would also build a roof over the chicken run, for protection from the sun but also from rain, so that my hens could be outside during our sometimes days-long rain storms.


But most of us can't redesign our coops just because a heat wave is coming. Use what you have, even if it isn't pretty - keeping your chickens cool is the most important goal.



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How to keep your chickens cool in summer - simple, quick ways to help!



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2 comments

  1. Hey there...
    I'm sorry your chickens are having it so rough. Maybe you can change the water and put ice in it?
    I've read they won't drink water over their body temperature... but will drink down to freezing.

    Maybe that would help them stay cooler... Like a gallon jug full of ice frozen... Just an idea.

    It gets pretty hot here. But we have never lost any birds to the heat, thank the Lord.
    All the steps you have taken are very familiar... all except the bath... we've never done that one. :)

    Please be blessed! Prayin for your birds, and all of you too.
    Carra

    ReplyDelete
  2. This summer, it has been very hot and dry. I might incorporate this to my chicken coop.

    ReplyDelete

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