After having started my personal journey to keeping a backyard flock a little over a year and a half ago, there are a few things I know for sure. One, there is always something to be learned about the subject of chickens, no matter how long we may have had them.
And, two, chickens are the masters of many things—the laying of eggs, the digging of holes, prancing and strutting around, and just generally making you laugh.
But there is one thing that they are not all that learned about, and that is keeping themselves cool on hot and sweltering summer days.
Many beginning flock keepers generally assume that the wintertime, and the cold freezing conditions it produces, are more dangerous for the members of their flock.
As it turns out, the extreme heat is not only more precarious but can often become life-threatening. That is why, as the keepers of our flocks, we need to know the steps to take to keep its members cool, healthy, and safe during the hazy, hot days of summer.
Research Your Breed
When I first entertained the thought of keeping chickens, I spent a lot of time researching them. Not just how to set up their coop, or what to feed them, but I also looked into the many breeds available.
I wanted to make sure that the breed I chose was one that would thrive in the climate in which I resided. I live in the Appalachian hills of Eastern Kentucky, so I needed a breed of chicken that was as much cold hardy as it was heat hardy.
After months of research, I decided to keep Australorps. I would highly suggest that you do your due diligence and make sure that the breed of bird you choose will, in fact, tolerate your seasonal changes.
How Hot Is Too Hot?
As a general guideline, any temperature that is more than 90 degrees Fahrenheit is deemed “too hot” for most breeds of chickens. The reason being the risk of heat stress and other heat-related chicken illnesses are increased, along with the possibility of death.
Much like us humans, the combination of both high heat and high humidity is very uncomfortable and can become detrimental to our flock members.
In terms of heat stress, there are several factors that come into play, such as the flock’s living quarters, their diet, and, as mentioned above, their breed.
The reason that the heat is so hard on our flock is that chickens do not have the innate ability to sweat.
Without being able to sweat, their bodies are unable to cool themselves as humans, and other animals, can.
Their only means of moving the heat off of their bodies is through areas such as their combs, wattles, beaks, and the bottoms of their feet.
The easiest way to remember this fact is that any part of their body not covered in feathers, they can dissipate heat through.
Symptoms Of Distress In Chickens
When it comes to signs and symptoms of distress in chickens, there are a few things to look for:
- When a chicken has become or is becoming overheated, they will usually pant, much like a canine. You will notice they will be breathing quite heavily through their open beak, and often will also be moving their tongues up and down.
- Chickens will also hold their wings out from their body in an effort to allow air to move under their feathers in the attempt to cool them down.
- They will appear both droopy and lethargic in their behavior, as well as presenting as slow to react or move.
- There will a noticeable decrease in their appetite and interest in food, to the point of possibly not eating at all.
- Their combs and their wattles will appear discolored and often pale.
- Egg production will have a significant drop when they are exposed to prolonged heat, with some chickens discontinuing laying all together until cool again.
Understand, the signs and symptoms listed above may seem scary, but if you follow the tips provided here, you will usually have nothing to worry about.
These tips are offered as a means to help with keeping chickens cool during those hotter, more humid months of summer, and will require a minimal amount of intervention on your part.
The most important take away to remember is that the most serious risk comes from those instances of unusual or sudden heat waves.
Chickens do, like humans, adapt to the weather conditions around them, such as the changes from one season to the next.
So if you and your flock reside in an area that is known for hot, humid conditions, the chances are that given time, your flock members will naturally become accustomed to the heat, and thusly be able to tolerate it more than say those flocks that are adjusted to more temperate weather conditions.
How to Keep Chickens Cool in the Summer
With all that said, let’s take a look at a few ways that you can help to keep your flock members cool during the summer heat.
This is one of the most vitall measures to be remembered of all of these tips. Make sure that you have made accommodations for your flock to have a nice, cool shady space that they may make use of on those hot, humid days.
This can be something as simple as them hanging out under any trees that may be present in their yard, or where they free range.
If their run is not entirely shaded, additional shade is easily created by using black shade cloth draped strategically over the run.
It is crucial to make sure that water is readily available at all times, which is both cool and fresh.
On those really hot days, this may mean that their water will need to be refreshed several times throughout the day.
Although I have never tried it personally, a fellow flock keeper and friend of mine adds ice to his flock’s water, to aid in keeping it cool for longer periods of time.
I usually go the route of filling an old bottle with water, freezing it, then placing it in the waterer to keep the water cool.
If you feel your flock members are showing signs of any type of heat-related distress, you can add electrolytes to their water that will aid in keeping them hydrated and healthy.
Many flock keepers turn to a more natural means of keeping their chickens cool, and that is by way of offering them herbs.
There are a variety of herbs that are not only cooling but will help your flock adjust naturally to hot weather. Some of these herbs include sage, lemon balm, peppermint, lemongrass, and red clover.
Each of these is fabulous for keeping your flock cool in a natural manner. To make use of these herbs, simply place them in your flock’s feed, or waterer, so that they will have the choice to either eat or drink them when they feel the need.
Not all chicken treats are created equal. By this, I mean that some treats will increase your flock member’s body temperature, rather than reduce it.
Such items as dry, cracked corn or scratch are high in carbs and work to warm your chickens up from the inside out during digestion. These types of treats are great in the winter, but not all that conducive in the summer months.
A better choice would be that of peas, corn, watermelon, or even strawberries. And to make them extra cooling, try freezing them before offering them to your flock.
It is essential to remember that treats should be offered to your flock in moderation. This is even more important to remember during the hot months of summer, as most chickens are already eating less in general.
In an effort to maintain your flock’s optimal health, it is best that you encourage them to eat their usual chicken feed, as it is already formulated to meet their nutritional needs.
However, if you would like their feed to appear more appetizing, freeze it for about an hour before offering it to them.
When your flock consumes frozen food, even treats, having the cold food in their crop can help to lower their overall body temperature from within.
Proper ventilation of your flock’s living quarters is another one of the crucial tips on this list.
Although adequate ventilation in a coop is essential all year long, it is even more vital during the summer and its hot conditions. Make sure to incorporate screened “windows” that are also secure and predator-proof, which will allow for a nice, cool cross breeze.
If you have the ability to provide safe electricity, you could always opt for a fan. If electricity is a problem, there are fans on the market that are solar-powered.
Avoid housing too many of your flock members in too small a space. This includes not overcrowding either the coop or the run area.
The general rule of thumb is 4 square feet of space per chicken provide in the coop and 10 square feet of space per bird outside.
Keep the Coop Clean
It pretty much goes without saying that during the days that are hotter that your flock’s coop needs to be kept as clean and tidy as possible.
During the summer, it is suggested that the layer of bedding not exceed more than 2 inches in depth. This will aid in the prevention of trapping in the heat.
It is also suggested that the common “deep litter” method not be used during the summer months. This is when the bedding and excrement is not cleaned out of the coop as often and is allowed to form a deep layer on the coop floor.
As such, the build-up will serve to act as an extra layer of insulation, which is excellent in the colder, winter months.
However, that same build-up of materials, as the microbes work at breaking it down, will physically begin to heat up—much in the same manner as compost bin or pile. An excellent plan for the winter months, but in the hot summer—not so much.
Puddles Or Pool
As chicken’s feet are not covered by their feathers (with the exception of a few breeds), they are able to lower their overall body temperature through the process of keeping their feet cool.
On those hotter days of summer, some of them love nothing better than to stand in a puddle of cool water. Last year, during the hottest, driest part of our summer, I purchased a small kiddie pool. I filled it about 1/3 full of water, and placed stepping stones here and there.
The water came just over the stones, and my flock members would stand on the stones and allow the water to go over their feet, offering them a cooling sensation.
Some flock owners have said that their chickens would not make use of the pools, but I found that mine did—and really seemed to enjoy it.
In the instances where your flock just gives you that “look” when offering them a kiddie pool, why not try creating an area in their yard commonly referred to as a muddle puddle. You need only wet that ground, making an area of muddy standing water.
As any flock keeper can attest to, chickens LOVE dirt. So maybe a mud puddle would be more to their liking than a kiddie pool would.
By introducing moisture in the air and ground around both the coop and the run, the overall surrounding temperature will lower somewhat.
If you will recall back to your science class days in school, droplets of water in the air, when they evaporate, will then immediately cool the surrounding air.
Taking advantage of this principle by setting up a system that mists water into the area around or close to your flock is a very efficient way in which to keep your chickens cool on those hotter days.
As a workable alternative, if you do not have access to a mister system, is to employ the use of lawn sprinklers. Again, you can make use of them in the area of your flock, or in a pinch, use them to spray the ground from time to time.
For us, humans, the prospect of wallowing around in a pile of dirt, may not seem all that appealing. However, for chickens, it is their primary means of keeping themselves not only clean but also cool.
In most conditions, the soil that is located just a few inches below the top layer of ground is commonly several degrees, if not more cooler.
Much like the much-needed ventilation in their coops, providing your flock with a location that has a nice dust bath is always a good idea.
On the hotter days of the summer, make sure that you provide your flock with a dust bath that offers them a lot of shade. This could mean simply filling a metal tub, a tote, or even again a kiddie pool with loose, fine dirt or sand, and then placing it in a cool shaded space.
For the added control of mites and lice, sprinkle a little wood ash or food-grade diatomaceous earth into the dirt or sand.
Make sure to drill several holes through the bottom of whatever container you choose to use so that there is proper drainage on those rainy days.
When all the other tips listed here fail, this is the LAST resort. It may seem an extreme measure to take—and that is because it actually is. This method is only suggested if you feel your flock members are clearly showing signs of heat stress, and the other methods mentioned above have shown little to no effects.
Keep in mind that you are to only submerge your chicken up to their shoulders, making sure the water is cool to room temperature, for a total of only one minute. It may not appear to be that long of a time to you, but it will be sufficient enough to cool their internal body temperature down rapidly.
Once they have been dunked, they will be able to keep cool for a while, as the water evaporates from their wet feathers.
NEVER dunk them in freezing cold or even mildly cold water. This is not only a mean thing to do, but it can be very shocking to their delicate systems.
If the water you are using out of your hose seems cold, let the bucket of water set in the sun for about one-half hour, letting it warm up a bit.
And there you have it! Several tips on how to keep your flock members cool, healthy, and safe during the hot and heated days of summer.
Once you have been around your flock for a while, you may begin to know them better than they know themselves.
When the days start to heat up, make sure to keep an eye on them and check in to monitor them from time to time. Use your personal judgment on how to react and what steps to take to help them.
If one of your flock exhibits extremes, signs, or symptoms, the last resort would be that of bringing into the cool comfort of your home. You can designate a small area in your home, and can even use a pet crate to contain them.
I have not, personally, had to bring one of my own flock into my home. But, I do have a plan in place to use the brooder I raised them in and put it in my bathroom.
So far, my chickens have been handling the hotter days of this summer like champs. They do spend not of their days in the shade of their run, and I do hear them flapping their wings a lot. But that is nature’s way of having them keep themselves cool.
I do change their water out three times a day, and as mentioned before, will put a frozen bottle of water in their waterers. And, to their delight, I give them frozen strawberry tops and frozen tomato scraps that help them stay happy and cool during the hottest time of the day.
Finally, the big door on their coop is left open on those, especially hot days, along with their side windows, so that those ladies who are laying their eggs will get a cross breeze.
If you plan ahead, and take stock in all of the ways that you can keep your flock cool, then when those hot days hit, you will not be caught off guard.
Our flocks depend on us to keep them healthy and safe, and as good keepers, it is our obligation to provide this service to the best of our ability.
Remember that, when you take on those cute little chirping fuzzy nuggets raise, it is your responsibility to see that they are provided for to the best of your ability. All of your attention to detail will see not only see you benefiting in being provided with delicious eggs but also the never-ending antics that only chicken are known for.
By using a few, or all of the tips offered above, your chickens will endure those heated days and the stress that accompanies them much easier.
Nature has hard-wired it into animals so that they know how best to take care of themselves. However, as flock keepers, we can offer a little helping hand when needed.