Any living thing is prone to stress when temperatures shift dramatically. And for small animals like chickens, those swings can be fatal. Luckily, there are several things you can do to help your chickens through the summer heat (especially a heatwave).
Are chickens prone to heat exhaustion or heat stroke?
Any living animal is prone to heat exhaustion or heat stroke. But in the case of a chicken, they rely on panting to release heat because they don’t sweat. Most chickens are also not bred for temperatures over 90 to 100 degrees Fahrenheit. So as temperatures climb, so does the likelihood they’re at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
A Quick Weather Lesson
I never thought that keeping chickens would encourage me to better understand weather patterns, but here we are. And now that I know a bit more about it, I can’t help but tell you so you’re able to better care for your backyard chickens, too.
Hot chickens are unhappy chickens. Chickens are able to produce their own body heat, but things like direct sunlight, high humidity, and high temperatures will spike their temperature and put them at risk for stress.
Humidity tells us how much water is in the air. And for humans, we are able to keep cool in the heat through sweating. But when we have high humidity, the water in the air blankets us and fights against our ability to sweat. That’s what keeps us hot and puts us at risk for things like heat exhaustion or heat stroke.
Chickens don’t have sweat glands and pant to release the heat in their bodies. So when high humidity rolls around, it’s that much more important to make sure we’re providing them with the tips I list in this blog post.
Direct sunlight doesn’t raise the temperature of the air over the shade. But exposure to skin is what adds that layer of discomfort. So whether or not you believe that the difference in air temperatures is 10 to 15 degrees hotter in direct sunlight than it is in the shade, making your chickens comfortable is what matters.
Finally, the heat index is what outside temperatures feel like to us as compared to the actual temperature outside. So when considering our backyard chickens, we need to remember that we’re able to find reprieve inside and they are not. Again, making these tips that much more important to implement!
6 Tips to Keep Chickens Cool During the Summer Heat
Supplement with Frozen Goods
My personal favorite thing to do is give my chickens frozen food. Things like a vegetable medley, ice in their water, or anything I just need to get out of my freezer. I’m already feeding my chickens. Why not spoil them with a little snack?
A vegetable medley is also a cost-effective way to get this into your summer care. A bag at my grocery store costs about a dollar. So when I go grocery shopping, I grab a bag for every day I’m expecting to see temperatures rise above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Putting ice cubes in their water is also a great way to make sure your chickens stay cool. By keeping the water cool, you know they will be cool.
Finally, keep a watermelon in your fridge and offer it as a snack in the heat of the day! One of my Instagram followers recommended this one – how creative is that idea?
Ensure they have constant access to food and water
Heat exhaustion or heat stroke are usually advanced stages of something like dehydration. So give your chickens a step up and make sure they don’t run out of food and fresh water!
Dehydration in a chicken can also impact its ability to recover from the heat. You may also see egg production slow down. There are a slew of issues that arise if chickens aren’t supplied with proper food and water.
But most important – it’s your responsibility to be a good steward of these animals. Take care of those chickens!
You can do this by monitoring their feed intake. Spring and fall are comfortable enough for chickens to give you an idea of what they consume normally. Cross those estimates against what you’re seeing during the summer and that will give you an idea of whether or not your chickens are stressed and in need of more support during extreme temperatures.
Provide well-ventilated, shady areas for rest
I am not talking about a roosting bar. I’m talking about a tarp over your chicken run. I’m talking about letting chickens free range and find natural shade from a tree that they like to roost in. I’m talking about making sure your coop has adequate airflow.
For instance – our coop has a tin roof and hardware cloth at the peak, making the entire top open for ventilation. However, we don’t have vent holes drilled on either side of the coop to encourage air flow through the coop. Thus, our coop gets hot. As this drives our chickens out of the coop and into the run, we have a tarp over our chicken run to give them a shady area to rest.
We also built our coop on stilts, knowing we would need the extra space to act as a place for shade during the summer. If you aren’t able to manufacture this into your coop design or you don’t want to use a tarp, a shade cloth works great, too.
And if your coop gets hot as ours does, you can always consider either leaving your coop door open 24/7 or closing your coop door during the day to prevent chickens from coming in. There are cons to both – like opening your hen house to predators at night and keeping them from nesting boxes to lay during the day – but there are benefits to that option as well.
Always be on the lookout for ways you can provide relief for your chickens during extreme heat.
Bonus tip – I have heard many homesteaders will throw frozen water bottles into their coop to give their chickens a way to cool down. I have never tried this, so I can’t vouch for it. But again – we want to give our chickens every opportunity to beat the heat!
Supplement with electrolytes
Just like humans, chickens are at risk of losing the things they need to maintain a calm, natural state of being if they’re stressed from something like heat. Usually, this is because they become lethargic and don’t want to move around. Meaning they also might not want to eat.
To keep from further taxing their system, consider offering an electrolyte supplement to their water. That way you know your feathered friends are getting additional support during hot summer days.
I snag my electrolytes from my local farm supply store, but you can also find them on Amazon using my affiliate link.
Controversial tip – Dunk your chickens to the breast bone in warm to cool water
Dunking your chickens to the breastbone in warm to cool water is a controversial tip because the under feathers of a chicken are not waterproof. So when they get wet, being the closest thing to the chicken’s body, they can encourage a chill to set in. For a young chicken, this could be fatal. Older chickens may be able to handle this.
This is not as involved as you may think. Simply fill up a 5-gallon bucket with warm to cool water and see what your chicken thinks. An alternative would be to provide your chickens with wading pools or a kiddie pool. Again – this is up to you and your comfort level.
Check on your chickens a couple of times a day
One of the best ways to keep your chickens cool is by tending to them multiple times a day. Ice melts. Frozen treats are eaten and thawed. But heat will persist. Check on your chickens multiple times a day to make sure they have what they need to stay comfortable.
Things to avoid in hot summers
This is not the time of year to partake in the deep litter method. Deep litter during the summer will not only encourage your coop to retain heat, but it will also attract pests.
Summer is also not the time to encourage chickens to remain in a hot coop. Be sure to provide plenty of ventilation should you have a broody hen or an injured chicken that must remain in the coop.
Signs of stressed chickens
My top signs of heat stress in chickens are raised wings, panting (much like a dog would), lethargy, and lack of interest in food and water. If I see any (not all – ANY) of those signs, I take action to provide additional support to my chickens.
What do you do to get your chickens through the summer?
These are only a handful of the things we can do to keep our flock cool during the summer! What are some ways you like to keep your chickens cool? Comment on this blog post and let me know!
I want chickens, but I don’t know where to start
Sign up for my email newsletter and get my “Making a Micro Homestead” ebook! This ebook is a 16-page resource complete with growth plans, alternative ways to homestead, and tips for burnout. Plus, there’s a whole section for how to get connected with homesteaders in your area. Because let’s face it – we can’t do this alone!
I also include a whole page dedicated to counting the cost of having chickens. If you are on the fence because you don’t know what kind of upkeep you’re looking at, what caring for them costs, or what kinds of materials you need – this is the resource for you!
These are products we love to use on our own birds. When you shop on Amazon using these links, I earn a commission at no extra cost to you! Thank you for supporting The Learning Life!
- This style of waterer works great for chicks
- I recommend this style of feeder for chicks
- A brooder lamp like this one has a clamp and the watts you need to keep those chicks warm!
- Don’t forget the bulbs for your lamp!
- Transporting small birds? This dog carrier makes a great travel solution.
- Mixing up a dust bath? Add diatomaceous earth! It’s the best way to kill pests and get deep in feathers. Since it’s food grade, it’s safe for your birds!
- For injured birds, I recommend a care spray like this one. Keep it on hand!
- Did you know chickens need electrolytes, too? These electrolytes are what we give our birds when there’s a cold snap and they aren’t taking it well. Again – keep these on hand!
- Need a place to put your equipment in the off-season? We use industrial totes like these.
- Cleaning out your coop? Where a mask and protect your respiratory health!
- Need to provide summer shade? Use a tarp!
Want more from The Learning Life?
Here are a few other great posts that will get you inspired and help you on your homesteading journey!