For humans, summer involves managing the heat with cooler, lighter clothing, hydration and shade. But what about our feathered friends?
Chickens (and many birds) are great at heating themselves in the winter. They fluff up their feathers, which traps air between the layers, creating an instant downy coat. But in the summer, there’s no way for them to strip down – and molt won’t happen until daylight decreases in the fall months. Because chickens cannot sweat, they are much more susceptible to overheating. Chickens normally lose heat as warm blood flows through the comb, wattles and limbs, cools, and is returned to the body’s interior.
Recognizing Heat Stroke
Problems occur in extreme heat, when the chicken’s temperature (on average 102 – 103 degrees F) cannot be reduced by the usual method. Heat stroke, low egg productivity, or death can occur.
Symptoms of heat stroke include:
- Panting with wings spread to release extra heat
- Reduced feed intake, which can negatively impact egg production and overall health
- Increased water intake, which can lead to diarrhea
Hot Weather Care Tips
- Water. A hydrated bird is able to regulate its temperature more efficiently – and keep its egg production up. An egg is almost 75% water, so keeping this nutrient available is essential for egg production. A fresh supply of cool, clean water is a necessity year-round, but especially in the heat of summer. Have more than one source of water, so chickens don’t have to move far or fight to get it.
- Shade. Coops and runs should be partially shaded if possible. Keep the shaded area large enough so that birds aren’t huddling in a small space. Chickens without shade tend to stay inside, away from cooling breezes. If you have darker birds, they’ll need more shade to stay cool and reduce fading, since they don’t reflect sunlight like light birds. Conversely, white birds may take on a “brassy” appearance from having their feathers exposed to too much sun.
- Ventilation. Proper ventilation is a must. It provides an exchange of air and promotes comfort by removing moisture, ammonia, and other gases. Mesh-covered windows let air in and keep predators out. A wire mesh screen door helps keep the coop cooler at night. Increase circulation with a fan.
- Dust baths. Chickens love taking dust baths and working the cool dirt particles into their feathers. Soil, mulch, and sand all work for dust bathing areas. If your chickens are confined, you can make a great dust bath for them by filling a large shallow container with your chosen material. Your chickens will be happier, cleaner, and cooler if you provide a good dust bathing area for them.
- Treats. Provide chilled or frozen summer treats. Create your own giant popsicle by floating fruit in a bowl of water and freezing. Chickens also love fresh fruits and veggies from the garden. But as with all treats, don’t overdo it. Feed no more than 10% of the total diet in treats, and make sure a complete commercial ration is the main source of food. Avoid high-starch grains, such as corn, which heat up a chicken’s body temperature during digestion.
- Low Stress. Keep stress levels down and avoid getting your birds all worked up. Give them plenty of room to stay calm, cool, and quiet. No one wants to “play chase” or be held on a scorching day.
Follow these tips, and your chickens will have the best shot at weathering our triple digits healthfully. And remember we have all the supplies you might need to make sure your coop is outfitted properly for the season. Call or stop by today, and we'll be happy to take care of you!