Keeping Chickens Cool in Summer Heat. Keeping Chickens Cool on Hot Days.
The summers here are atrocious. Literally. The combined heat and humidity is enough to make anyone kill for air conditioning.
My family and I went to south Texas a few years ago on vacation and we visited the Alamo. We walked around San Antonio in the middle of July for about 5 hours. We knew it was hot, but we weren’t miserable. Our only sign that we were hot was that we were all really thirsty.
My husband and I were thinking it was probably in the mid-80s. We were warm, but not overly uncomfortable. So we were shocked when we got in the car and the temperature outside was over 100 degrees. We found out that there was almost no humidity that day, which was something that I don’t think either of us had ever experienced.
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We returned home a couple of days later and it was exactly 80 degrees outside when we stepped out of the car and couldn’t breathe. But, I guess that’s what 98% humidity does for you.
In the summer, we have a really short window of time to get things done outside in the morning before you almost instantly die. Then, you have a very short period of time right before day to get things done.
So, no wonder people worry about their animals during the summer, right?
How do you keep your chickens safe and cool during the summer heat? If you can’t handle being outdoors for long, how can your chickens?
Don’t stress; your chickens probably aren’t as miserable as you might worry that they are. Let’s talk about how to safely keep your chickens cool and healthy during extreme summer heat.
Do your chickens need help staying cool?
Yes and no.
Let’s talk about this for a minute. Your chickens spend their entire lives outside. They’ve done this for generations. They haven’t been babied by air conditioning like we have. Their tough bodies are highly adaptable to changes in temperature, so for the most part, they can handle a little bit of summer heat.
How hot is too hot for chickens?
Most chickens breeds that are popular in the U.S. are derived from birds that were bred for colder weather. So generally, chickens perform best wen temperatures fall somewhere between 40-75 degrees Fahrenheit.
This doesn’t mean that anything over 75 degrees is too hot for them. Remember, chickens are very adaptable. Most chickens won’t show that they are hot until the temperatures are well above 90.
Even when chickens start to get warm, they can still stay healthy. When I say that they are the most productive between 40-75 degrees, I mean just that. Most research that looks at heat stress in chickens looks at the effect that temperatures have on the level of productivity. In other words, how many eggs they’re laying, how fast they’re putting on muscle mass, etc.
This doesn’t mean that your backyard chickens are going to start dropping like flies if the temperature is over 75.
Chickens that are the most at risk for heat-related illness include fast-growing broilers (meat chickens), highly productive layers and broody hens.
How do chickens cool themselves?
Fun fact: Chickens don’t sweat. Their skin doesn’t have sweat glands to produce sweat to cool themselves off. This is probably because their feathers would just get in the way of any evaporating sweat.
If you’ve had pigs or are familiar with pigs, they also don’t sweat, but it’s not likely due to having feathers. 🙂
Chickens will cool themselves off by panting. Panting exchanges the warm air inside of the body with cooler air from the environment. They will also cool themselves off by holding their wings out and away from their body.
You may notice your chickens walking around with their mouths open. If they’re doing this, they’re attempting to cool themselves down.
A chicken’s normal body temperature is pretty warm: 104-107.5 degrees F. When the body gets warmer than this, they’ll start to pant to cool themselves off.
If panting doesn’t get the job done, they will spread their wings away from their body. They may also extend their neck out. Stretching out exposes more of their feathers to the air, allowing the trapped hot air to escape and cooler air to reach the skin.
Ways to Keep Chickens Cool
The best ways to keep your chickens cool are by providing them with a cooler environment rather than using ice cubes or frozen treats.
Start by providing your chickens with constant access to plenty of shade. A shaded area can be as much as 40 degrees cooler than a space in direct sunlight! It’s the same concept as leaving a child or pet in a hot car in the summer. The space will rapidly heat up from sunshine, making it much hotter than if it were shaded.
When you look at the forecast temperatures for the day, keep in mind that those temperatures are in the shade. These aren’t the temperatures that are taken in full sunlight. Help your chickens out by providing them with some shade.
If your chickens are kept in a coop, make sure that the run always has at least some shade. A run with a roof is a good start, but you may want to consider walling up one side to provide shade in the morning or evening when the sun hits the run from an angle.
Your chickens always need access to clean, fresh water. Chickens will drink the most when the water temperature is between 50-55 degrees F. Most well water or cool tap water falls into this range.
Keep the waterers in the shade, not in the sun where they will heat up. Chickens won’t drink as much if the water is too warm, which can lead to dehydration or an increased chance for heat stress.
Chickens will drink between 1-2 cups of water per day. On hot days, this amount is doubled. When chickens pant or breathe through their mouths, water is lost from their body. That’s why they tend to drink more when they get hot.
Chickens will drink nearly double the amount of water when temperatures are at 95 degrees as they will when temperatures are at 70 degrees. Make sure that they have a steady supply of cool water.
You don’t have to add ice to the water to make it cool enough to cool them down. Simply filling up the waterer with fresh, cool water each day will be enough to cool them down.
You can also provide a small, plastic kiddie pool with cool water in it. Some chickens will enjoy standing in the cool water to cool off their legs, which will help to cool off their bodies. Not all chickens will enjoy taking a dip in the water, but some will, so it’s worth a try.
Yes, dustbathing can help keep your chickens cool! In the summer, I almost always see my chickens dust bathe in the middle of the day.
When chickens dust bathe, they roll around in the dust and attempt to put dust around their feathers, down to the skin. While they are doing so, they fluff up their feathers so that the dust can get down to their skin. This also allows air to get under their feathers and down to the skin, which can help cool them off.
You might want to consider adding some cooling herbs to your dust bath. Herbs like mint will help to cool the skin down and will also help keep mites and other parasites away.
Providing shade is critical to keeping a coop or a run cool, but so it proper ventilation and air flow. Have you walked into a coop or barn that had no air circulation in the summer? It can be downright stifling.
Make sure that your coop and run are well-ventilated. Chicken coops can trap excess heat, making the space inside of the coop unbearably hot.
There are a few ways that you can help ventilate your coop and remove some of the hot air.
If your coop has windows, open them! You can add some hardware cloth or window screen to prevent your chickens from leaving the coop. If you’re worried about predators sneaking in through open windows, add some hardware cloth to your windows since it’s tougher than window screen.
You can always close the windows at night, but you’ll really cool the coop down more if you open the windows at night.
To get the most out of your ventilation, you’ll want to have a way for air to escape at the highest point of the coop and in the lower level of the coop. Warm air rises, so having some type of vent at the top of the coop will allow the hot air to escape. As the hot air leaves the coop, cooler air will be pulled inside through a lower level vent. This only works if you have a vent at the top and one near the bottom part of the coop.
Another way to help keep your chickens cool in the summer is to provide them with a fan. A simple box fan can work wonders to help keep your flock cool.
Chickens don’t sweat, so the fan won’t help them cool down the same way that a fan would help us cool off when we are sweaty. BUT, moving air is always cooler than stagnant air. Even a slight breeze can make the temperature feel cooler.
I like to set up a box fan in the coop’s doorway and aim it out into the run. It helps to move the air in both the coop and provide some air flow in the run also.
Not only is ventilation important for keeping your chickens comfortable in stifling summer heat, but you’ll want to think about insulation and coop colors also.
Insulation can help keep your chickens cool in the summer and warm in the winter. It’s a good idea to install some radiant barrier insulation in your chicken coop’s roof. This will help the top of the coop to reflect heat rather than absorb it, feeding it into the coop.
I would seriously consider this if you live in an area where temperatures in the summer reach the 90’s frequently.
Also, think about the color of your chicken coop. Lighter colored coops won’t absorb as much heat as dark colored coops will. Definitely don’t paint your coop black, no matter how stylish it may look!
A white coop will absorb the least amount of heat. Light tan or beige are good color options also. Remember, the darker the coop is, the hotter it’s going to be.
The video below also mentions misting and wetting the ground inside the run to help keep chickens cool:
Things Not to Do to Keep Chickens Cool (The Controversial Things)
If you look around online, you’ll see a million ideas for how to keep your chickens cool in the summer. Freezing treats, adding ice to waterers and misting chickens are a few of the things that you’ll likely see.
I personally don’t do this for my chickens and I’ve never lost a bird that go too hot. But, I wanted to discuss both sides so that you can make the best decision for your flock.
This is a hot topic. Some people highly recommend adding electrolytes, others are completely anti-electrolytes.
Here’s the thing: any time your body works hard, it uses more electrolytes. The same is true for chickens. When they are trying to stay cool, their body will naturally work harder to maintain a cooler body temperature and will use more electrolytes.
I think the problem arises when people think that chickens need an abundance of electrolytes. People, pets and most livestock sweat when they are hot. When you sweat, the body loses a large amount of electrolytes in that sweat.
Since chickens don’t sweat, they aren’t losing electrolytes in the same way that people would. Does this mean that they don’t lose electrolytes at all? No. They just don’t lose them as quickly as an animal that would sweat.
Many poultry veterinarians will advise you to add electrolytes to your chicken’s water in the summer, especially for birds that are more at risk like meat birds or high-producing hens. If you’re going to add electrolytes to their water, do so with caution.
Electrolytes contain salt. In large amounts, salt can kill your chicken. You don’t want to overdo it with your electrolytes.
It’s a good idea to put electrolytes in the water for a day or two and then remove them for a couple of weeks. Any time that you offer water with electrolytes in it, make sure that your chickens have fresh water that doesn’t have electrolytes in it also.
I personally don’t add electrolytes to the water unless I’ve got some at risk birds, like broilers.
Providing Frozen Treats
This is another controversial topic. Similar to adding electrolytes, many poultry veterinarians will suggest that you provide your chickens with frozen treats. The most common suggestions that I’ve seen are frozen berries and frozen whole corn in ice cubes.
Again, this isn’t something that I’ve personally done for my chickens and I haven’t had issues with losing chickens due to heat.
Why is it controversial?
Some chicken keepers will claim that by providing cool treats, you’re messing up the chicken’s body’s ability to keep itself cool. They claim that cooling the chicken down with a frozen treat will cause their body to work harder once it starts heating back up.
I think of this like us eating a Popsicle in the summer. The frozen treat will help to cool you down. Yes, the effect is only temporary, but it’s still helpful.
Again, this is something that is totally up to you and whether you want to do it or not.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar is a highly suggested additive to put in chicken waterers. It can help them to reduce parasite loads and keep the amount of bacteria to a minimum in their body.
With that being said, don’t add it to the water when it’s hot outside. Apple cider vinegar can actually have negative health effects for chickens in the summer, so it’s best to just provide cool, clean, fresh water in the summer.
Chickens and Heat Stroke
Occasionally, chickens can become heat stressed. This is a more common issue with at-risk birds like broody hens, broilers or high-producing layer hens. The average backyard chicken is less likely to experience heat stroke.
With that being said, any time the temperature is high and the humidity is above 50%, the chance for heat stress in chickens is there.
Chickens that are hot won’t eat, so make sure that they have access to plenty of feed 24/7 so that they can eat when it’s coolest outside.
Since chickens don’t sweat, they rely on their respiratory systems to cool themselves off. They will pant and breathe through their mouths to keep cool. This means your chickens are hot, but it doesn’t mean that they are in danger of having a heat stroke.
Chickens that are in danger of heat stroke are often lethargic. If you notice a chicken that seems overly hot, you can always check their temperature. An internal body temperature of over 110 degrees is considered dangerous.
Bring the chicken indoors where it’s cool. Provide them with cool water, not cold water. Cold water can shock the body when it’s overheated. Cool water will help to slowly bring the temperature back down.
In extreme cases, you can place the chicken in a bathtub filled with lukewarm water. Don’t be tempted to put them in a cold bath since that can also shock their body if they are overheated. It’s best to slowly cool the body back down rather than rapidly cooling it.
For more information about heat stroke and other safety issues with your chickens, check out PoultryDVM, a website dedicated to all things poultry health.
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How do you keep your chickens cool in the summer? Let me know below!
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