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Backyard chickens: cool in the summer heat

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It's so hot the chickens are indignant.

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It's summer, and we're all concerned about our outdoor pets, but we don't really want our flocks to come in with Rover...or at least our families really don't want that.

If the hens are walking around the backyard with raised wings and panting rapidly, it's time to consider helping them out. It's really not fair: would you be irritated if you were wearing a feather boa right now? How about a down comforter?

A conscientious chicken-keeper will find ways to bring a little comfort to the flock when the weather does this normal summer thing...HOT, rainy, steamy, scalding, stormy, HOT...repeat.

Here are 5 quick tips for giving your feathered friends a bit of peace when the heat becomes an issue:

  • Hillbilly air-conditioners- These are simply made by taking a large plastic bottle, such as a milk jug, a 2-quart juice or pop bottle, etc., and filling it 90% with water. Pop it in the freezer until solid. Now go lay it in a shady area your birds have already chosen as somewhere they cool off- they'll enjoy a few degrees of relief for a couple of hours. Sometimes one can put several in a cluster in a shady spot for real micro-climate-change.
  • Ice-cold drinking water- Make a wise investment now: extra waterers. Filling and refilling water throughout the day to keep them fresh and cool is about as much fun as doing laundry. Likewise, frozen waters in the winter are just as tedious. If you have extra waterers you can fill them 3/4 of the way and freeze them, so that when you top them off and put them out, the birds have cold water for much of the day. In the winter you can keep some inside and just take out fresh water in the morning, rather than attempt to thaw the reservoirs that froze solid overnight.
  • Air movement- It's true that draftiness is something one should be concerned about in cold months as the enemy of poultry, but in the summertime, your chickens will fight over who gets the roosting spot right in front of the fan. Mount a fan in the corner of your coop ceiling angled down on the flock or put a box fan in a window to create a cross wind. They'll appreciate you all night long while they bask in the breeze.
  • Frozen treats- As much as we humans enjoy a frozen treat in this weather, the chickens will adore your ingenuity when you expound on the ideas hereafter: cut melons into quarters (leave in the seeds- that's the best part!) and slip the quarters into gallon-sized zipper bags and freeze. Unzip and put out in the heat of the day for much fun. Toss out frozen corn, peas, or berries. Make ice cubes with any of these treats inside for a bit of pecking fun. Use your imagination! I like a big batter-bowl with chunks of corn, berries, grapes, and sweet potatoes filled with water. I turn it out for a couple of cool hours of pecking.
  • Cool foot-bath- The inability to sweat is debilitating for our feathered friends when our humid weather becomes oppressive. An old jelly-roll pan or lasagna dish can become a favorite spot if placed in the shade and filled with ice cubes and water. You'll find the girls will happily walk through it again and again- as well as drink from it, to our disgust and dismay...still, it's cool. If you have room, a tiny baby pool works great, and you only need an inch or two of water! Don't leave the foot-bath in the sun, as they'll burn their feet when it becomes dry.

Keeping the flock cool is crucial when we near the triple-digit heat index. Having a plan and a few things in place keeps you from losing a pet to the climate. Always offer clean, fresh, cool water and shade when temperatures spike.

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