Summertime means fun in the sun for your playful and curious backyard chickens. Keeping your chickens well fed and hydrated and housed in a cool coop can help them beat the summer heat. It doesn’t take much to keep your chickens cool during the hottest season.
Whether you live in the dry southwest or the humid southeast, it’s entirely possible to raise backyard chickens regardless of the local hot and humid climate using our handy tips.
Do Chickens Get Too Hot in the Summer?
Throughout every season, chickens are resourceful and hardy creatures able to regulate their internal body temperature with the passing of the seasons. In warm and temperate weather, chickens can thrive and roam freely while they bask in the sun.
However, chickens are not immune to extreme temperatures. A blazing hot sun in an extremely muggy environment can affect even the most heat tolerant of chickens.
Don’t rely on the ambient temperatures to tell you when to help out your chickens. Forecast temperatures reflect how hot it is in the shade not when exposed to direct sunlight. Take this into account when keeping your chickens cool.
In general, however, chickens are very adept at staying cool as a cucumber without any extra help. Naturally, they can regulate their body heat using a variety of innate instincts.
How Do Chickens Stay Cool?
Chickens are pretty resilient creatures that can withstand every season through their natural warming and cooling processes.
Chickens have a peculiar way of staying cool. Since chickens can’t sweat out the heat, they rely on opening their beaks and panting or spreading their wings away from their bodies to avoid overheating.
If the heat becomes unbearable, chickens can become lethargic, lose their appetite, and can easily get sick and reduce egg production.
The best way to avoid heat stress or stroke or worse is to use preventive measures before the problem arises. If done properly, chickens can remain chipper and healthy all season long.
Signs of Heat Stress or Heat Stroke in Chickens
When the weather becomes too hot and humid to handle, your birds can suffer from heat stress or worse, heat stroke. If these levels get too high, your bird’s internal body temperature will become harder to regulate. If left untreated, the stress from warmth can lead to excess panting, increase water intake, and possibly death.
Generally, chickens can regulate their body temperatures when the thermoneutral zone is between 60 and 75º F . In this range, birds don’t produce a lot of heat. However, if the temperatures increase toward 85º F, their behavior, food consumption, and egg production can suffer. When temperatures reach over 100º F, your birds are more prone to death unless you can keep chickens cool and fast.
Signs of heat stress begin to appear as temperatures cross the 85° barrier. Common signs and results of this type of stress include:
- Excessive panting
- Increased water intake
- Pale comb/wattles
- Outstretched wings and lifted feathers
- Reduced drinking and eating intake
- Decreased egg production/thin egg shells
- Staggering, disorientation, seizures
Fret not, overheating is completely and easily preventable. During those blistering hot days, make sure to check on your chickens at least a couple of times a day. We’ve put together a few handy tips to keep your flock happy and healthy all season long.
1. Choose the Right Heat-Tolerant Breeds
Most chicken breeds can withstand a few weeks of hot and humid climate, but some breeds are more tolerant of the warmth than others. For owners who live in areas that experience extreme heat for most of the year, these heat-tolerant chicken breeds should be considered:
- Easter Egger
- Barred Plymouth Rock
- Rhode Island Red
- White Leghorn
- New Hampshire Red
Shade is your best friend when protecting your flock from the sun. Shade can provide a considerable reduction in heat compared to direct sunlight. In most cases, chicken tractors are a convenient way to move your coop with the seasons. For stationary coops, a temporary shade can be easily and affordably installed.
DIY shade fixes can be simple and affordable or elaborate and expensive. A shade tent is an easy pre-made fix. Shade cloths are made of loosely woven cloth allowing air to flow through but providing protection against the sun. Or, you can make your own shade with sheets or tarps.
Ideally, the shade should cover more than the coop and most of the run.
Used trees and plants nearby can also provide some shade. Planting deciduous trees near your coop can provide the UV-protection during summer and warm sunlight during winter when the leaves have fallen. Don’t forget to use those fallen leaves as bedding!
While you’re waiting for your tree to grow and provide shade, try planting some tall flowers or vining plants outside your chicken coop. Plants such as hops, hollyhocks, amaranth, honeysuckle, sunflowers, grapes, and climbing rose can beautify your coop and provide it with some shade.
Regardless of your shade set up, make sure your coop is located in an area that gets a good breeze.
If possible, place your shade in the middle or west end of the run so that the shade covers a large part of your run during the midday to afternoon peak heat.[blog_product sku=’1242560‘]
3. Cool and Fresh Water
Keeping chickens properly hydrated is crucial to keeping them healthy. That may mean checking in on their water levels a few times throughout the day or adding extra waterers to give them more places to drink from. Chickens can drink twice the amount during hot weather.
Without proper hydration, your chickens won’t eat as much or produce frequent and healthy eggs. Give your chickens plenty of water in the morning and evening when it’s the coolest.
You may want to keep the metal waterers in the shade to keep them cooler for longer. If the water is warm, your chickens are less likely they’ll drink it. Make it as easy as possible for them to reach the water without having to cross directly under the sun’s fiery rays.
If necessary, add a few ice cubes to keep the water cool. They prefer when the water temperature is between 50 to 55º F.
How much water should you be giving your birds?
About 500 ml per bird per day or one gallon for 7 mature birds.
When chickens are trying to keep themselves cool, they may pant excessively leading to even more water loss. That’s why keeping your birds properly hydrated is so important to keeping chickens cool in the summer.
With frequent use, you’ll want to wash the waterers once a week with a water and bleach solution (90% water/10% bleach) and rinse thoroughly.[blog_product sku=’784345′]
4. Summer Feed
During the summer, frozen treats and fresh fruits and vegetables can be delicious and cooling snacks for your flock. Still, make sure you follow the 90-10 rule of 90% complete feed and 10% snacks so your chickens can have all the nutrients and minerals they need to be healthy.
To keep your chickens happy and healthy, give them a complete layer feed such as Purina Layena, Purina Layena Plus Omega-3, or Purina Organic Layer Pellets or Crumbles. For egg-laying hens, these foods contain the Oyster Strong System, which incorporates this calcium supplement into the food for strong egg shells and bones.
Chickens will be more likely to eat during cooler times such as the morning and evening in a shaded area. Instead of afternoon feedings. reserve the treats for after their initial serving of a complete feed.
5. Cooling Herbs
Cooling herbs? You heard it right. Certain herbs are thought to naturally help chickens acclimate to the weather. Herbs such as lemon balm, sage, lemongrass, mint, or peppermint may just be the thing your birds need. Just add them in their food, waterer, nesting boxes, or ice treats throughout the hot day to help them beat the excessive warmth.
6. Coop Design
Being out all day means fun and play but when it’s time to hit the hay, the chicken coop temperatures can be just as warm, if not warmer. Make sure your ventilation accounts for the rise in warmth and humidity to keep chickens cool.
One way to heat-proof your chicken’s home is to remove the solid doors and windows and place screened or wired doors. This allows more fresh air to circulate and remove warm and stale air while keeping predators out.
In addition, make sure your coop has plenty of space for each bird. Chickens have natural body temperatures between 104 and 107º F. Keeping your chickens huddled close together is helpful during the winter but not during summer. As a rule of thumb, chickens should have at least 4 square feet of space.
Insulation isn’t just a protective layer against the winter chill. Reflective insulation on the roof of the chicken coop is a protective barrier against the stinging heat. This product is best reserved for climates that exceed 90º F.
7. Dust Baths
Chickens clean themselves by taking dust baths. In a shaded area, provide an area where they can roll around in the dirt and get the dust under its plumage. Chickens instinctively know that the dust bathing helps suffocate external parasites.
On hot days, the dust bath can offer a second benefit. All the rolling around can work to fluff up the chickens’ feathers allowing the air to directly hit and cool their skin. In some cases, the ground can be cooler than the air’s warmth, so you may see some chickens having a swell time rolling on the ground.
Proper ventilation inside the coop is critical to regulating your chickens’ temperature. Maintaining good air flow in the coop in the day and night continuously removes warm and stale air and adds fresh and cool air.
Most importantly, ensure your open windows, vents, and doors are predator-proof. A strong wire or hardware cloth over the window can keep predators out and allow for a nice breeze to blow through. A strong screen can allow you to keep the windows open all day long and at night if the warmth and humidity are too high.
When properly creating a well-ventilated chicken coop, you ideally want vents on the top and bottom of the coop for proper air circulation. A vent at the top of the coop will allow the rising warm air to escape. Cooler air will be filtered through the lower vent near the bottom of the coop.
While not required, providing your chickens with a small fan can be helpful to keep chickens cool and comfortable. A fan can cool down a chicken by creating a breeze that continuously moves warm air out and cooler air in.
Some fans can automatically turn on when a certain temperature is reached. This is helpful if you’re not always around to check up on your chickens. If you don’t have a power source nearby or don’t want electrical wiring in your coop, go with a solar-powered fan to keep chickens cool.
9. Clean Coop
In warm and humid environments, chicken droppings can not only produce a more pungent scent but also create a breeding ground for bacteria to multiply. Keep your chicken coop clean by removing the droppings and keeping a thin bedding layer on the floor.
Deep litter methods can increase temperatures inside the chicken coop. While this method is helpful during the winter, as the deep litter decomposes, it generates unnecessary warmth. Instead, opt to regularly clean your chicken coop during the summer and ramp up the deep litter during later seasons.
In humans, electrolytes are lost through sweat. In chickens, heat stress and dehydration can lower their electrolyte levels. This may result from excessive panting and lower water intake. Electrolytes are important minerals that help regulate fluids and muscle function.
Some vets recommend adding electrolytes to a chicken’s water (in moderation). Don’t give your chickens more than they need. Only give them electrolytes for a few days at a time. Overdoing it can affect your chicken’s health.
It’s not easy to give your chickens excessive electrolytes since they won’t drink water that’s too salty. As long as you give them electrolytes for up to 5 days, they won’t suffer any negative health effects.
Electrolyte supplements like Sav-A-Chick keep chickens cool and hydrated during the hottest of days. Simply mix it in clean and cool water and you’re good to go. Chickens will replenish their electrolytes and minerals lost when they satiate their thirst.
11. Frozen Treats
When the heat becomes too hot to handle, it’s time to bring out the frozen treats and ice cubes. Frozen fruits and veggies cut into small pieces, including your scraps, can keep your chickens cool in the summer.
Chilled watermelon seems to be chickens’ favorite icy treat. No matter how you slice or cut it, they’ll keep eating it as long as you keep feeding it to them. From seeds to the rind, they’ll gobble it right up. If they like watermelon, try feeding them cantaloupe, honeydew, and other melon types.
Other frozen treat favorites include:
- Chilled cucumber slices
- Frozen berries
- Frozen corn
- Frozen peas
- Any frozen fruit and veggie!
For added fun, you can make your own ice pops by freezing fruits or veggies in ice cube trays or a baking container. A muffin tin or even a bundt tray can keep your frozen fruit or veggies icy cold, good enough to give your birds a cool break from the hot heat.
Some chicken owners like to add ice water to their regular food to make a cold “cereal” mash. Essentially, any chilled feed or treat can help keep chickens cool.
12. Pool Party
If all else fails, giving your chickens a nice mist can keep chickens cool. For an easy and affordable setup, invest in a misting attachment for your hose. A delicate and fine mist of water is enough to lower body temperatures a few degrees through evaporative cooling.
Some chickens may like to go through the mist while others will steer clear. Still, some may prefer to play near the cooler wet ground instead of getting directly sprayed. At first, they may be confused and afraid of the misting system, but they can acclimate over time.
For added fun, keep a small kiddie pool or pan of water in the run for chickens to use as they please to keep them cool. Above all, ensure the water level in the kiddie pool or container is shallow since chickens can’t swim. Anything over an inch can be hard for a chicken to wade in.
Final Thoughts on Keeping Chickens Cool
Keeping chickens cool naturally is super easy and affordable using our helpful tips. All you need is fresh and cool water, complete feed, plenty of shade, proper ventilation, and you’re all set.
Backyard chickens are pretty tolerant to the summer heat (and winter chill) on their own. With a bit of help, you can keep them cool through the hottest weeks of summer. It doesn’t take building out your chicken coop and run from scratch. A few minor changes can make all the difference.
For all the rest, there’s Wilco farm stores for all your poultry needs.