The hot days of summer usually signal a lowering of egg production in your hens and lowered fertility in your roosters, but it can also cause heat stress or heat stroke in chickens which can lead to sudden death when a heat wave comes on. It is important to be prepared ahead of time and to know ways and methods in which to quickly cool down your flock.
Watch your weather forecasts very closely. They will let you know several days in advance if a heat wave is coming to your area. Check for humidity warnings. Don’t get caught off guard or your birds will suffer.
Chickens perform at their best at 75 degrees Fahrenheit. Their core temperature is 107 degrees Fahrenheit. When the outside temperature climbs to 85 F they begin to show signs of distress. Heavier birds will feel the heat more than lighter birds. Small chicks can handle temps up to 100 degrees F but larger birds will have problems. Not all breeds handle the heat the same. Silkies have a harder time with the heat than the cold. Poor eyesight due to large crests can make locating shade and water difficult. Dark colored birds absorb the sun’s rays where light colored birds can reflect it. Use small rubber bands to tie up crests on silkies to help them cool off and find water easily.
Chickens do not sweat. They release moisture through panting, droppings and evaporation. I see my silkies lifting their wings up and out to try and cool off on very hot days. If a bird is listless and panting, she may have heat stroke. You will want to try and cool off her body temperature as quickly as you can. One hot day I saw one of my birds lying down and panting. I picked it up and moved it outside into the shade and gave it a shallow dish of water. She began drinking quickly and recovered. If I had not discovered her in time, she might have died. Many people lose poultry during heat waves. Slowly submerging a chicken into a bucket of water can bring down their body temperature. Make sure that the water is not too cold as to shock their system which could cause heart failure. Also, do not let the beak submerge under the water as that can cause drowning.
The best thing that you can do for your flock during a heat wave is to provide them with plenty of cool, clean drinking water. I put out multiple drinking founts both inside of the coop and outside of the coop. Make large ice cubes and place them inside of your waterers to cool the temperature of your water. Chickens do not like to drink warm water, and will avoid the waterer if they know the water is warm. You could also place small shallow bowls of water that are easier to get their beaks into. It is easier to change out and get new water with this type of waterer than a large fountain type so you will be more apt to do it.
Adding electrolytes to their water can help with dehydration and can add vitamins and minerals. Do not add electrolytes every day. I would go for 3 days on and then 3 days off. Birds drink more during hot weather which can increase the amount of vitamins they are ingesting upsetting their vitamin dosage.
Keep the water fresh and clean. They won’t drink dirty water even when they are thirsty. Don’t place the waterers in the direct sun. The chickens will not walk out to the waterers if they have to go into the hot sun to do so. Place the waterers in the shade. Keep the temperature at least 10 degrees cooler than the outside temperature using ice cubes or frozen bottled water inside the waterers. Make it easy for them to get to the waterers by placing them near to where they are shading themselves.
Frozen treats can help to cool down your birds. Frozen bananas, watermelon, apples and strawberries are good choices. Don’t feed cracked corn, scratch or other grains as it will warm up their insides as it is digested. The best food in hot weather is a high protein pellet/crumble food that contains all the nutrients they need. Do not place the feeders in the direct sunlight. The birds will not want to walk out to eat from it. Feed the flock in the late afternoon about an hour before dark. That way they will have a full crop before going to sleep. Feeding them in the morning will cause them to have a full crop in the heat of the day and going through the digestion process will raise their internal temperature during a time they need to be cooling off.
Create shade if you do not have it in the run area. Use beach umbrellas or sail cloth to block out direct sunlight. I will even use tarps to drap over the top of runs to create more shade. Let your birds free range when you can and they will find shrubs and bushes to rest under during the heat of the day. Provide places to dust bathe and even cool down those area with some water poured into them.
Good ventilation is important in your coop especially in hot weather. Leave windows open and place window fans in them to create air flow. Place a large block of solid ice in front of a fan for a cooling breeze. Good circulation of air moves the hot air out and the cool air in.
Cool down the coop by keeping the poop under control. Decomposing manure creates heat and attracts flies and other insects. Flies in the coop can lead to fly strike. Ammonia fumes can cause respiratory problems. Pick up and remove large chunks of poo each day. Note that chickens tend to have watery diarrhea during times of heat.
Set up a baby pool and give your birds an hour or so in the pool getting their feet and bottoms wet. Make sure you supervise this activity. Even just holding them down in the water and then lifting them out will cool them off. Do not make the water too deep. Only a couple of inches of water is needed.
Get a mister attachment for your hose and leave it on during the day. Hang it from something like a tree branch. It will reduce the temperature of the ground underneath it. You could also spray the outside of your coop walls with water using the “flat” spray setting on your nozzle. If you needed too, you could gently spray down your birds during the hottest times of the day using the mist setting.
Avoid stressing your birds during hot weather. Do not move pens around or switch birds so that they have new pen mates. Do not over crowd them. They need plenty of space to be able to lift their wings and cool off. Keep interaction with your birds to a minimum. Seeing people tends to excite them and will make them hotter. Expect that egg production will slow down and then stop altogether during this time. Hens do not like change, though roosters can handle it better. Keep an eye on them and try to make them as comfortable as possible.
For tips and tricks for raising outstanding silkies check out our Chicken Learning Center at VJPPoultry.com . VJP Poultry is an NPIP and state inspected hatchery located 30 miles north of St. Paul. We hatch out silkies all year long so we always have stock available. Like us on Facebook to get weekly updates on what we currently have for sale.
Victoria J. Peterson