Along with keeping chickens warm in cold weather, it is important to know how to keep chickens cool in hot weather. Obviously, hot weather isn’t just a matter of the outside temperature. Other heat-related factors can come together to make conditions for chickens unbearable in the coop, and the run. And even free-range chickens aren’t safe from the blazing heat that summer can bring.
When should you really start to be concerned about the heat? When the thermometer reaches 85 Fahrenheit, larger-bodied chickens like Brahmas and Jersey Giants can start to slow down, stop eating, and pant heavily. If this happens, it’s time to take action.
Where There is Water, There is Life
A chicken will drink a pint of water every day. Have you ever gone to the waterer to find that it was bone dry after only a short period? You’re certain there must be a leak, but you discover that the ground beneath the waterer is dry. Chickens drink! They need water at all times.
During hot weather, chickens will double their water intake. How much water should you give your chickens? If you have 14 chickens, you will need at least two 1-gallon waterers changed in the morning and the evening. Look – if you have chickens, you have chores to do.
There are many ways to get water to your chickens, from a creek running through your property to spring-loaded overhead nipple waterers. However you decide to do it, make sure it is always available. Food and water are a chicken’s two most important everyday needs.
If there is water, chickens will find it and drink it. However, waterers of the trough variety should be placed at the upper breast level of your chickens so they can easily scoop it with their beaks. Since chickens use gravity to allow water to drip down their throats, the higher the elevation of the water, the more they can drink at a gulp.
Freeze a block of ice to put into one of your waterers. As it melts, it will stay Ice-cold, and last a long time.
The normal body temperature for a chicken is around 105 degrees Fahrenheit. We, humans, have sweat glands that work harder and harder to cool ourselves as the temperature gets higher and higher. Chickens can’t sweat. They open their beaks to pant, use wattles and combs to disseminate heat, and spread wings to allow heat to escape from their bodies.
Once these techniques are exhausted, then chickens are forced to find shelter from direct sun and heat. The most immediate shelter they can find is shade. Of course, bushes and trees are great shade makers, but chickens that don’t have access to natural shade will need man-made shade.
Man-made shade can be the inside of a coop, or a roof over a run. Tarps can be strategically placed in the chickens’ range. Whatever the shade application happens to be, ventilation is a must. Where there is no natural airflow, fans can be installed. Chicken coops must have at least two vents for flow-through ventilation.
Sprinklers, Misters and Ponds
If you are in an area where drought is not an issue, sprinklers and misters can be set up to keep a steady “rain” of cool water for your chickens to enjoy if they want to. I’m not saying you should drench your chickens, or force them to stand in a deluge of water. I’m saying that you can make it available to them in case they want it.
The water from these two items cools the air a little and the ground a lot more. A steady stream of cool water on the ground will be very inviting to your chickens.
A short kiddie pool is a great item in your chicken-cooling arsenal. Try to keep it as clean as practicable because they will drink from it and wade in it (and poop in it).
As a last resort, you can dip individual chickens in cool water to reduce their body temperature. You don’t want to bring them down too fast, which could shock your chickens. This may sound silly, but please use common sense when dipping chickens. Don’t use freezing cold water, and don’t dunk their heads. Only dip for less than a minute. That will be fine.
The Dust Bath
The dust bath is a chicken’s go-to keep cool, keep clean, parasite control method of bathing. Chickens dig a bowl in the ground, throw dust all over themselves, then wallow in it and lay in it to keep cool. It is a very effective method that chickens have devised, and you can make it easier for them by filling up a kiddie pool with peat moss, sprinkling in some diatomaceous earth, and letting the chickens do their thing.
The diatomaceous earth is great for killing parasites like mites and chicken lice. It’s not expensive and is readily available.
Other Keep-Cool Ideas
Another move you can make to keep your chickens cool is to provide them with cold or frozen treats. Items like…
- Frozen peas
- Frozen watermelon
- Frozen strawberries
- Frozen grapes
- Frozen blueberries
- Frozen feed grain
- Frozen scratch grain
As I’ve said in other articles, be careful with soft foods. Too much soft food can clog a chicken’s crop, which can be a devil to unclog if it can be unclogged at all. I once lost a sex link to green peas. I tried massaging the crop, making it vomit, and waiting it out, but nothing worked. … lesson learned so you don’t have to.
The Benefits of Keeping Chickens Cool
Anyone who keeps chickens knows that traumatic events in the flock can lead to a decrease in the trust and comfort of the flock as well as a reduction in egg production. Trauma can come in the form of an attack from a predator, the rough removal of an unwanted rooster, or, as we’re discussing now, extreme heat.
Reducing stress in the flock is crucial to getting your chickens to do what you want them to do. If we are talking about meat birds, you want them to eat. If we are talking about laying hens, you want them to lay eggs.
Keeping chickens cool and comfortable will result in happy, calm chickens consistently delivering eggs. The less stress that a chicken has in her life in general leads to increased longevity and less medical attention necessary throughout her life. Calm chickens are much more approachable than jumpy chickens.
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