While the colder temperatures of winter can have us clutching our coats tightly around us, it's the high heat of summer that affects chickens adversely. The very insulation provided by their feathers that keeps them toasty warm in winter's chill traps heat close to their skin in summer, elevating their temperature and bringing them dangerously close to heat stroke. Chickens will begin to pant as their internal body temperature increases and their egg laying productivity will either slow dramatically or halt altogether. While these are signs of evident chicken distress, they are still well within normal behaviour.
Image courtesy of Rachel Tayse, Flickr.
When chickens become listless, forgoing both food and water and maintaining an apathetic air, immediate attention is necessary or the birds will die. In recent years, temperatures in Australia have broken all previous heat records, especially in the arid inland areas. Here are six great tips for keeping chickens cool and happy so they don't reach the dangerously overheated and apathetic stage. Don't rely on your own response to the heat when gauging your chickens' reaction to the weather; as chickens naturally operate at a higher temperature than humans, they will begin to show signs of stress at a much lower temperature than that which would affect humans.
- A Shady Space
- Take a Chill Pill
- Splashing Out
- Chicken Spa
- Sweet Treats
- Buy Them a Pint
If your chicken coop or enclosure doesn't have adequate shaded area for the flock to perch in, place a tarp or wooden boards to create an awning and block overhead sun. Make sure their water container is also in the shade, as chickens are adverse to leaving their cool hangout for a drink. The shade will also help to keep their water cool.
Another way for hens to find some relief from the heat is with frozen water bottles placed in and around their enclosure where they like to roost. The cooling effect of water evaporation will help to lower the temperature immediately around the bottles, making little oases of refuge for the birds to enjoy. A handful of ice cubes placed in their water dish will provide a nice drink to cool them; this is especially important, as chickens dislike sun-heated water and will avoid it. If your plans necessitate being gone for the day, try filling the bottle attachment for their water container half full, freezing it solid, then filling the remaining area with fresh water. The ice will melt slowly, providing hours of cool water for the birds.
For really hot days, an inflatable child's pool filled with cool water can provide necessary relief for overheated chickens. While chickens generally dislike being wet, they do enjoy wading in shallow water and the evaporation from a small pool will help to lower the nearby temperature of the air. If it's not convenient or feasible to place a pool in their enclosure, spraying the area nearby, as well as the roof of the coop, will help to lower the air temperature as the water evaporates. Just avoid spraying the chickens, as they simply do not care for soggy feathers. If your coop includes a place where they can wallow, the chickens will be able to cool themselves with the slightly damp soil.
It's important to keep chickens stress-free, as the physiological response to stress helps to raise their core body temperature. Providing a safe, worry free area for the chickens to relax will keep stress to a minimum. You can also keep them happy with insect powder for chickens, as it helps to kill the parasites that live next to their skin and cause discomfort and stress.
For a cool treat the hens will love, try placing cold or even slightly frozen fruit for them to enjoy. The cold fruit will help to lower their core body temperature and keep them from dangerous dehydration in especially high heat. As chickens can and do enjoy most of the foods humans like, just about any fruits will do, although some ideal kinds would include kiwis, strawberries, peaches, watermelon or anything on hand that has a soft consistency when slightly frozen. As an added bonus, the nutrition from these treats will also help to improve egg quality.
Electrolytes can be added to their water for the added benefit of avoiding stress and mitigating the effects of heat. Electrolytes will help to keep them hydrated, which is especially important on days when the temperature is above 40 degrees Celsius. At this temperature, it is nearly impossible for the birds to lose heat adequately and they require extra help to keep cool.
With these few simple tips, keeping happy, healthy, stress-free hens will be easy and enjoyable for owner and chickens alike.