As hot weather gets hotter, chickens can struggle to stay healthy. Help your flock thrive and survive the soaring summer temps.
Most people understand that your chickens have special needs to get through the bitter temperatures of winter to stay healthy and safe. But often people forget that hot weather can be just as, if not more, dangerous for your flock. The heat effects our chickens and egg production just as much as bitter winter temps. Here in Alabama, we have relatively mild winters. This past winter, I saw no drop at all in egg production. But now that the disgusting hot weather is here, my numbers have dropped a little. I mean, can you blame the hens?
Here are a few things to take into consideration when it comes to caring for your chickens this summer.
Are They Hot?
Just like you need the ability to cool down in hot weather, so do your chickens. Chickens, like dogs, don’t sweat. One of the ways a chicken will cool itself is to pant. You may see your chickens lying in the shade, or walking around with their mouths open. Water is evaporating from their lungs as they breathe and this is a method for their body to cool. This is especially difficult if the weather is very humid, like it can get here in the southeast of the US.
Heavy panting is the first sign that your chickens are too hot. Another sign that your chickens are getting over heated, is that they will lay or walk around with their wings out from their bodies. Thing of how you’ll pull your hair up off of your neck when you’re hot. That’s basically what the chickens are doing. They don’t have thick feathering under their wings, so they are trying to get air underneath and against their body.
If they get overheated, this can cause extreme stress or even heat stroke. Not only will your egg production go down, but you could also lose some chickens.
How to Cool Them
First, one of the most obvious things, is make sure they have a place where they can find shade. In the photo below, you can see an A-frame structure that is made from two pallets. I have several of these out in the chicken area.
This is a simple way to make shade for your chickens, particularly if their paddock/yard has no foliage for them to hide under. These structures are simple to move as well, and can go wherever their yard is moved to, since we do rotational pasture. Most of our structures have tarps attached to them, giving them total shade and rain protection underneath.
You might also think of planting fast growing shrubs that they can go underneath. When we let our chickens run loose, they loved to hide under the butterfly bushes. They would hide under there and rest in the heat, and didn’t do anything to the shrub other than peck at a couple bugs. I actually plan to plant some of these around our chicken coop for this very reason.
Chickens like to take dust baths in shady locations as well, something that is important for their health and also a cooling action.
In the past, I have talked about how important windows are for airing out your coop in relation to keeping your coop from stinking. (Article: How to Keep Your Chicken Coop from Stinking) But it is equally important for the environment inside your coop.
Think about a hot car in the summer. How horrible is it in that car when the windows are closed versus when the windows are wide open. Make sure there is plenty of ventilation in your coop. If you have the ability to, or your coop design allows for it, you might even think about putting a fan in the coop. This can also help keep flies away.
Cut the Crowding
Ever been in a packed room and seen how hot and stuffy it got? Make sure your chickens have plenty of space. Don’t try to cram too many chickens into one coop and make sure they have plenty of space to get away from one another if they want.
Now we know that predators are a year-round issue, but in the summer things like fleas and mites are much more prevalent. Make sure to take steps to keep pests out of your coop. Some people swear that food and water have to be inside the coop (hen house) all the time. Maybe if your chickens live in there 24/7 or have limited access to outside. Our chicken coop door is opened before sunrise, and closed after the chickens have gone to bed. Chickens sleep hard and aren’t getting up for midnight snacks. They only go inside to sleep or lay eggs.
We keep the food & water outside the coop. Our primary reason for that, is to keep the coop cleaner and not attract mice (and snakes), ants or other pests.
Another thing we do to keep our chickens safe from pests, is by using food grade diatomaceous earth. I sprinkle this onto their coop floor and in the nesting boxes before putting the bedding down. DE kills insects naturally and is completely safe for your chickens and other livestock. You can also sprinkle some onto their food to help keep parasites from being an issue. Additionally, where ever your chickens like to take their dust baths, sprinkle a bit into the dirt. This will help rid them from any pests that might bother them on the outside.
When Wilson (our pet rooster that adopted us) came to live with us, he looked rough. He was constantly scratching and biting himself, worse that a dog with fleas. His legs were scaly and sore looking. We put DE where we saw him dusting himself, and in no time we noticed his scratching and scaliness improving.
In the summer, the pasture is rich, green and full of great plants, bugs and more for them to eat. So for that reason alone, your chickens may eat less feed than they do other times of the year. But when the weather is very hot, and all they are doing is laying around in the shade, they are now eating less overall. A hen needs to take in lots of good nutrition for her body to create eggs. If it is too hot to eat, you simply have to expect a lower number in egg production and plan for that.
Corn is your best friend in the winter, because your chicken’s body takes more energy to digest it, heating their body up. But in the summer time you want to limit how much corn they get. If your scratch grain mix is high in corn content, think about cutting back on the scratch and giving them more of the regular feed.
Food aside, something you will notice your chickens consuming a lot more of is water. Just like you need to stay hydrated, so do your chickens. Make sure that you always have more than enough clean, fresh water for your chickens. Set your waterers in a location where it is shaded to keep the water cooler. You could also add ice to it if you wanted.
In the summer, I add a supplement to my chickens’ water that provides important vitamin, electrolytes as well as probiotics for their gut health. It only takes 1/3 of a teaspoon per gallon of water so one jar goes a long ways.
Because your chickens still need good nutrition as well as hydration, consider giving them “wet treats” like watermelon, fresh tomatoes or other goodies that are high in water content. This will not only have your chickens happy, but it will help them be healthy as well. I don’t give these goodies to them in the heat of the day, because I don’t want them running around chasing each other and fighting over the treats. These are best in the morning or late afternoon as the heat subsides and they are more active anyways.
Hot Weather Breeds
Finally, you may want to take into account what actual breeds of chickens you are keeping. If you live in a hot climate, you may want to think about looking at breeds that are hardy in hotter weather. Generally breeds that have the larger wattles and combs tend to do better. The chicken’s blood flows through that cherry red flesh and cools down more easily.
Have any summer tips for your chickens? Share below!