Air conditioning in your home might keep your house pets comfortable in summer, but what about your backyard chickens? What special precautions can you take to help your flock tolerate a heat wave?
If you're in an area of the country where temperatures soar in summer, choose a breed of chicken that tolerates the heat. Some chickens are more adapted to cold than heat, and vice versa, whereas some can handle both winter and summer weather equally. My Black Sex Link and Production Red hens have survived quite well in both frigid winters and sweltering summers here in southern Ohio.
Check for breed hardiness with the handy chart available at BackyardChickens.com.
Chickens will naturally seek out shady spots to get a bit of relief from the scorching sun. Make sure to have shade accessible to them, and remember that as the sun moves overhead, what is shady in the morning might not be by afternoon.
My chickens love to get under the large quince bush and will even share the spot with my dogs and cats who are also trying to escape the sun’s rays. If you have no tree or large shrub to provide natural shade, you can cheat by using a small table that they can get under, or rig a tarp attached to the top of the fencing or trees or other structures in the area.
If your coop is off the ground, the shade beneath it might be enough to allow a bit of respite for your chickens. Make sure it is open (other than chicken wire or other fencing) on at least two sides to allow adequate air flow.
Adequate water supply for your chickens can't be stressed enough. Like most any animal, a chicken's water consumption will increase during summer, so make sure to check water dishes frequently. Bear in mind that along with increased drinking depleting the supply, water will also evaporate more rapidly in the heat.
Depending on what type of water containers you use, you might be able to add chunks of ice or ice cubes to keep the water cooler for a longer period of time.
Day at the Spa
Along with water for drinking, I found out by accident that a few of my hens enjoy a footbath. I had previously used a dishpan for a nest box and had left it in the yard for some reason, and it had collected some rain water. I noticed some of my girls standing in it, so decided to put cool water in it whenever I changed their drinking water. They love it. One in particular spends a good part of the day in her mini-spa.
Any type of low container will work -- a dishpan, kitty litter box, a child's swimming pool.
Down and Dirty
In addition to helping with parasitic mites, a dust bath is one way chickens naturally keep cool. They'll pick a spot with dirt soft enough to scratch in, scrunch down and kick and fluff the dirt all through their feathers. If your chicken pen doesn't provide the natural means for your fowl to make their own, give them a little help in making a dust bath by adding some loose soil to an area that they have access to.
Adequate Air Flow
If your chicken coop is buttoned up tight, your chickens might get overheated. Improper ventilation is also a major cause of chicken ailments, particularly respiratory problems. If not equipped with windows, leave a pop door open to allow for extra airflow, covering it with chicken wire at night if you have a problem with predators. I have outside nest boxes, so I also prop open the lid with a block of wood so that they're more comfortable while sitting on the nest.
The more of these options that you make available for your chickens during a heatwave, the better they’ll be able to tolerate it. Happy hens are better layers, so keeping them comfortable will benefit you too.
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