Sometimes you’re supposed to cook your chickens, just not in your backyard… and not by using the sun. Keeping your chickens cool in the summertime is something that every flock owner should actively monitor. While chickens can cool themselves down to some extent, there are some definite measures you can take as the flock owner to help create an environment that keeps your birds as comfortable as possible.
Heat stress is a real problem. Because they don’t sweat like humans, keeping chickens cool can be hard! Even if they can survive the high temperatures, heat stress is still detrimental to a bird’s overall health. Too much heat without a way to cool down can slow and even stop a hen’s laying cycle.
The first step you can take to ensuring your chickens will fare well in warmer temperatures is by… buying and breeding chickens who fare well in warmer temperatures! Depending on where you live and what the climate is like over the summer, practical choices to choose from in terms of chicken breeds might be slightly affected. Breeds that are native to the Mediterranean region like Leghorns or Egyptian Fayoumis are some of the most heat tolerant breeds available. But there are plenty of other breeds that can just do fine in most North American climates. However, you may want to avoid the fluffiest and feather footed breeds like the Cochin or Brahma if you’re backyard chicken farmer in Phoenix.
Give Them Shelter
In terms of setting proper shelter to protect your flock from the sun, you must always make sure you have enough space. Chickens have an average body heat measuring almost 10 degrees hotter than that of humans, so forcing them together in a small space is a surefire way to unknowingly crank up the temperature and really mentally and physically stress out your birds. 4-5 square feet per mature bird is a solid guideline to follow in order not to overcrowd your flock.
Another aspect of proper housing is ventilation. Ventilation is important for much more than just “air conditioning.” Ventilation helps clear out potentially harmful bacteria and moisture that could foster a disease or respiratory sickness. In terms of ventilating your coop, it’s important to create a good breeze, not a good draft. In other words, making sure your coop has solid airflow without exposing your birds to too much wind can help keep your birds comfortable, especially if you live in a climate where the temperature sufficiently drops at night. If possible, you can create an instantly cooler environment by placing your coop and outdoor run under a shady tree or in a place where you the coop can catch a breeze.
And Whatever You Do, Do NOT Forget Water
Your chickens will power through water extremely fast when temperatures are high. This is normal, and like humans, this is a way for the birds to stay hydrated, healthy, and cool in hotter weather. Unfortunately this means you might have to spend a little bit more time ensuring they have a full water source. You should absolutely always make sure your birds have accessible (AKA not empty, blocked, or dirty) water but most especially in the summer.
You should also keep the water in the shade so it doesn’t heat up too fast. Your birds are also deterred from going to drink it if it’s sitting out under the hot sun.
Make sure you have multiple water sources. Even if you can theoretically water the size of your flock off of one waterer, having an extra one can ensure that weaker birds or ones lower on the pecking order can still hydrate themselves. If it gets hot to the point that the water in your water source becomes warm excessively fast, you may consider refilling it at some point with cooler water.
Keeping Chickens Cool Via Model Behavior
Observing your flock and their behavior can help you diagnose many problems and keeping chickens cool is definitely one of them. If your birds are panting or holding their wings away from their body, that may be a great sign that they are a little too hot. Also make sure that your birds are drinking regularly. This might come down to the fact that the waterer is just too difficult to reach or drink from. Oftentimes leaving your water sources in the hot sun or not providing your flock enough drinking space can be contributing factors to your birds not drinking enough.
All in all, chickens can be rather tolerant. With enough water and some shade, most chickens make it through some pretty hot temperatures. That being said, getting the proper breeds for your climate can make all the difference in your flocks’ mood and productivity, which in turn is better for you as the owner.