Keeping your chickens cool in the summer is more important than winter care.
Everyone is always so worried about their chickens handling the cold temperatures of winter, but the real concern is keeping chickens cool in the summer.
Even though they’re farm animals, chickens are still vulnerable to heat stroke and other problems brought on by the hot temperatures. Backyard chickens struggle more when the summer heat soar than when they dip down.
As responsible chicken owners, you need to learn how to keep your chickens cool and how to identify signs of heatstroke in your flock. If you live in an area with hot weather, you will also want to pick chicken breeds that tolerate the heat better than others.
In recent years, heat waves are becoming more common. Even my little area in Ohio faced multiple days with temperatures in the triple digits. Areas in Canada experience triple digits; we know areas in Europe experienced record-breaking temperatures in recent years.
That means chicken keepers need to be prepared to keep chickens cool in the summer. It isn’t just for comfort; it is life and death for these farm animals during these hot summer months. Extreme temperatures kill, and if you aren’t prepared, all your hard work may end.
Here is what you need to know.
How Hot is “Too Hot” for Chickens?
Summer temperatures range widely depending on your location. Temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit will increase the risk of heat stress, heat stroke, and other heat-related illnesses. When temperatures reach triple digits, death is a possibility, especially when you combine hot temperatures with high humidity.
No one likes those conditions; extreme heat and high humidity are a recipe for disaster for humans and chickens alike.
Heat stress also depends on other factors, such as the chickens’ living quarters, diet, and breed. Heavier chicken breeds, such as Buff Orpington, may become overheated at around 85 degrees F. Smaller and lighter chicken breeds tend to handle the heat better. So, if you tend to experience high temperatures in your region, it’s a good idea to pick chickens that handle heat better based on their body types.
Signs of Heat Stroke in Chickens
Like all animals, chickens are at risk for heat strokes. While you might select breeds that handle higher temperatures, all breeds will be at risk for heat strokes.
Many people don’t realize that a normal chicken’s body temperature is between 105-107 degrees F. So, if it gets much higher than that, it leads to strain and stress on your chicken’s body. Chickens cannot sweat to cool themselves like humans or pant like dogs. Instead, chickens release their excess body heat through their combs, wattles, beaks, and feet. That’s why chickens with larger combs and wattles keep their bodies cooler easier than breeds with peacombs.
Some breeds will stop laying eggs when the temperatures soar, but others might even die if they’re too hot.
It’s natural for egg production to slow down around the 90 degrees F mark. At 100 degrees F, egg production can stop entirely, giving the chicken’s body time to rest and preserve fluids.
It’s crucial that you pay attention to your flock during these periods for any sign of heat exhaustion. Signs of heat stress or stroke include:
- Keeping their beaks wide open
- Lying on the ground with their wings spread
- Eating little or barely any food
- Droopy, lethargic behavior
- Pale or discolored combs and wattles
This sounds scary, but with a few of these tips, your flock will be fine.
The biggest problems arise when unusual heat waves happen. Make sure you watch your flock and their behavior and respond accordingly.
Chickens can and do adjust to hot conditions; you can raise chickens nearly anywhere in the world. Over time, the chickens get used to the heat and tolerate it well. Two years ago, I visited St. Thomas, and chickens roam everywhere freely. They tolerate the heat well!
However, heat waves pose a serious risk to your chickens. That’s why you should pay close attention to your local forecast during the summer to prepare accordingly.
Keep Chickens Cool in the Summer: 12 Tips
1. Hydration is Key
Humans need to stay hydrated, and chickens do as well. Clean, cool water is essential for your flock to survive hot temperatures.
The general rule is for you to provide 500 milliliters of fresh water per bird per day. That means for every seven adult chickens you have, you need one gallon of fresh water.
However, when the temperatures spike, they can drink up to twice as much water. They’ll eat less or lay fewer eggs if you don’t provide enough water. Water is everything.
Here are a few simple tips to remember.
- Add extra waterers to make sure that each bird has access to water.
- Try putting the waterers in shady areas to make the water stay cooler.
- Put fresh water out each morning and evening.
- Make sure you wash the waterers weekly. Use a mixture that is 10% bleach and 90% water. Scrub them well and rinse thoroughly. Otherwise, nasty slime will develop on them.
- If your chickens seem stressed in any way, add electrolytes to their water to ensure they stay hydrated.
2. Add Ice to Their Water
Water is key during these temperatures. Not only do you need to provide plenty of water, you’ll also need to replace it more often.
In the summer, you might want to try using multiple shallow containers rather than a large pitcher. If your run is large, doing so ensures your flock always has access to clean water, and it’s much easier to refill these dishes than those large jugs.
Try tossing some ice cubes into these dishes to keep the water cool. I do this when the temperature starts to spike midday. Make sure these dishes are in the shade to stop the ice cubes from melting too fast. You might consider ice blocks because they take longer to melt.
3. Provide Ample Shade
Ideally, when you design your chicken coop and run, there will be plenty of shade aside from the inside of the coop. Staying inside of the coop during the day might be too hot for them, so they need to be outside in the shade.
You can create shade easily if you lucked out and didn’t have any natural shade in your chicken run. Try securing a tarp over the top of the run, using a table umbrella, or building a roof over some of the chicken run. A shade cloth is handy as well if you don’t have any other option; I toss a shade cloth over parts of my chicken run in the summer.
Shade is a must!
4. Give Them Frozen Food
Chickens love frozen food, but cold food works as well. If you have some unused veggies or fresh fruit that might go bad soon, it’s without a doubt one of my flock’s favorite foods to eat.
Try tossing some banana slices, pineapple chucks, watermelons, apples, or strawberries into your freezer. Let them get cold or frozen, then give them to your flock.
You can try mixing yogurt with frozen fruit. Chickens can safely eat Greek yogurt or plain yogurt. This is a favorite treat for my flock as well!
5. Mist Your Flock
If your girls are still hot, try getting a misting attachment for your hose. You can even find misting stands attached to your hose’s end. Leave the mister on throughout the day or just for a few hours if you don’t want to run up your water bill. Doing this can greatly reduce the temperature in your chicken run and keep your girls comfortable throughout the day.
6. Ensure There Is Plenty of Ventilation
Hopefully, when you designed your coop, you ensured there was plenty of ventilation. This is particularly important if you live in a hotter state, such as Florida. Proper ventilation is crucial if you want to keep your chicken coop cool.
So, how can you add more ventilation to a chicken coop?
The easiest thing to do is add a window and leave the window open when they roost. Night air is naturally cooler, so it’ll keep your chickens cool and comfortable throughout the evening.
Of course, a window can be problematic if you have predators, so a steel window guard is a great idea.
Another idea is to install a fan inside of the coop and use it throughout the daytime. It will reduce the temperature in the coop, so when they finally go to roost, it won’t be a sauna in there.
Also, while a lot of bedding works great in the winter to insulate the coop – that’s why we use the deep litter method – having too much bedding in the summer holds heat inside of the coop. Only use a thin layer.
7. Add a Baby Pool
Your chickens might surprise you! If you can’t find a misting attachment, some chickens really enjoy a baby pool, plus they’re so cheap. Fill up a baby pool with cold water and your chickens might dunk themselves in the water.
If it’s really hot, you can add ice cubes to the water.
On really hot days, the water will need replaced. Typically, it’s best just to use this during the afternoon.
8. Put Frozen Jugs in Their Run
Here’s another simple idea. Great some water bottles and toss them into your freezer or an empty milk jug!
Once it’s frozen, take it out to your coop and put it in your chickens’ dusting areas. Either bury the bottles or put a towel over the top. Your chickens will sit on top of the jug to cool down.
9. Box Fans Work Awesome
Believe it or not, they do sell barn box fans that are meant for farm animals. Try to place the fan in an area that has a breeze. It can help tremendously if your chickens are panting.
Who doesn’t love a nice breeze from a fan?
10. Try a Mud Bath
Some chickens really don’t want to stand in water, but when they’re hot, some chickens don’t mind standing in the mud instead. Pick a corner in the run where you can put some mud. Don’t make a swamp!
11. Provide Dust Bath Space
You might not want to flop around in dirt, but chickens think it’s great. Dust bathing is how chickens keep themselves clean and cool. Think about it; cool dirt in a shady spot sounds pretty comforting on a hot day for our feathered friends.
Make sure your flock has access to dust baths in a shady area. Soil a few inches down is cooler than soil right at the surface.
Another option is to fill galvanized metal tubs or a kiddie pool with fine dirt or sand. Some chicken owners use food-grade diatomaceous earth and peat moss.
12. Keep an Emergency Bucket Nearby
Sometimes, no matter if you went to great lengths, your chickens can still suffer from heat stress. That can become fatal quickly. A dehydrated chicken suffering from heat stress needs attention ASAP.
It’s a good idea to keep a bucket of cool (not cold) water in the shade nearby. If you notice a distressed chicken, submerge the chicken up to its neck for several minutes to safely lower its body temperature.
6 Breeds That Handle The Heat
Not all breeds were meant to stand up next to the high temperatures. That’s why it’s crucial that you find breeds that match your average climate. Some breeds handle heat well, and some are cold hardy, but few are both.
Chickens cannot sweat to cool down, so they release excess heat through their combs, wattles, beaks, and feet. If it’s not covered in feathers, it’s releasing heat.
That means the breeds with larger combs and wattles cool themselves off easier than those with smaller combs.
Here are some heat-loving breeds that will handle the summer weather better than others.
- Rhode Island Reds
- White Plymouth Rock
- Easter Egger
- New Hampshire Reds
Keep Them Cool
Part of being a chicken keeper is knowing how to keep chickens cool in the summer. Chickens are vulnerable in high temperatures, so you need to be proactive as the temperatures soar. Keep an eye out for heat waves and keep water available at all times!