Chickens are surprisingly hardy and resilient creatures that can survive in both hot and cold temperatures. However, during the hottest months of the year, they are likely to need a bit of help from you to stay cool.
There are several simple actions you can take to help your birds remain comfortable in hot weather, and in this post, we have all the info you need to know about how to keep chickens cool in summer.
Chickens, heat and how they keep cool
Before we talk about some ideas for how to help your chickens cool in summer, let’s talk about how chickens react to heat.
Although they are descended from red junglefowl, a species that originates in the steamy jungles of Thailand, domestic chickens can suffer badly in the summer months when the mercury begins to rise.
When temperatures climb above 70°F, they will already start to feel the heat. At 80°F, they start to feel increasingly uncomfortable, and anything above 90°F is too hot for them – at which point they will need your help.
This means you should take action as soon as the thermometer reaches above 80°F.
In hot weather, if you see your chickens with their beaks open panting – often with their tongues moving up and down – holding their wings out, losing their appetite or becoming drowsy and listless, it’s a sign that you need to do something to help them cool off.
Sometimes you may notice their combs and wattles becoming pale or discolored too, and if they start laying fewer eggs or even stop laying altogether, these can be warning signs other warning signs that the weather is becoming too hot.
So what can you do to help them if you spot any of these tell-tale signs of overheating and potential heatstroke? Let’s look at that now.
Ways to keep your chickens cool in hot weather
Here are some simple ideas you can try to keep your chickens cool in summer.
1. Provide ample shade
The first thing to do in hot weather is to provide your birds with plenty of shade so they can hide from the sun.
If you often experience hot weather where you live, it’s a good idea to plant trees or plants that will provide shade naturally – but if you suddenly experience an unexpected heatwave, it’s important to rig something up that can protect them from the sun.
Some possible options include hanging up some kind of sheeting or simply placing a couple of parasols out to give them somewhere to hide from the sun’s rays.
2. Give them plenty to drink
Hydration is just as important for chickens in hot weather as it is for us, so make sure you provide them with plenty of fresh, clean, cool water.
Rather than just having one waterer, it’s better to place several water sources out for your chickens to make it easier for them to access it.
Small bowls are a good idea because you can easily refill them throughout the day. Also, to keep the water cold, you can add an ice cube or two when you refill them. At the same time, make sure you don’t place the water in direct sunlight to avoid it heating up.
As a rule, chickens need around half a liter each of water per day when the weather is hot – this works out to about one gallon per seven birds each day.
3. Ventilate their coop
In the summer, it’s vital to ensure their coop is properly ventilated. If it has windows, open them and consider replacing a solid door with flaps – you can always close the door at night to keep your birds safe, and you can add sturdy wire grilles to windows to keep predators out.
If you don’t have flaps for a door during the summer, you can prop the door open to help any hens inside stay cool while they are laying.
Depending on where you live, making sure the coop is properly ventilated early in the morning can be important since temperatures may already be rising before you come out to let the birds out at the start of the day.
4. Avoid overcrowding
Always make sure your birds aren’t living in overcrowded conditions – this is true at any time of the year, but it’s especially important during the summer.
5. Add a fan
If you can, consider installing a fan in the coop to keep the air circulating.
6. Freeze their food
Freezing chickens’ grain feed before they eat it can help keep them cool. If you put it in the freezer an hour before you give it to them, it will be nice and cool when they eat it, helping reduce their body temperatures.
7. Give them cold or frozen treats
Similarly, giving them cold or frozen treats can be a great way to help them fight the heat.
Giving chickens water-rich fruit or veg like watermelons or cucumbers straight from the fridge can help them keep cool and stay hydrated at the same time.
Alternatively, freezing food like these or chopped-up pieces of strawberry will be highly appreciated.
Another good idea is to mix up some pieces of fruit in water and freeze the water.
After it has frozen, you can then place the frozen block out for the chickens to peck at as it thaws.
However, don’t overdo it with the treats. Treats should never make up more than 10% of your chickens’ diet or they will start to miss out on some of the nutrients they usually get from their regular feed.
This is especially important in summer since their appetites will be naturally reduced, making it even easier for them to become malnourished.
8. Avoid certain foods that heat chickens as they digest it
On the other hand, certain foods such as diced corn or scratch actually raise a chicken’s body temperature since they take longer to digest – so avoid carb-heavy foods such as these in summer.
9. Remove excess bedding
Remove excess bedding from the coop. You should never give them more than two inches of bedding in summer, and you should never use the deep bedding method in summer because it produces extra heat.
10. Provide dust bath opportunities
Make sure your chickens have plenty of opportunities for dust baths since this is one of their natural ways to keep cool.
You can even dig shallow holes for them in the shade because the temperature of the soil a couple of inches below the surface will be slightly lower.
11. Use a mister or a sprinkler
Installing a sprinkler or a mister can work wonders for your chickens. They will enjoy the effects of evaporative cooling on their bodies, and the water on the ground can also significantly lower the air temperature as it evaporates.
12. Give them a pool or a puddle to play in
If you can give your chickens a shallow child’s pool to play in, this might help them keep themselves cool. Although some chickens might avoid it at first if they’re not used to it, simply standing with their feet in water can help reduce their body temperatures.
Even placing a plastic bowl of water outside might encourage your chickens to stand in it to cool off.
If this doesn’t work – or if you don’t have a suitable plastic pool or bowl – you can also create mud puddles by pouring water out onto the floor where your chickens roam.
This way, they are more likely to go and stand in the mud, and this will also help cool them down effectively.
13. Bury frozen bottles of water
A creative solution you might like to try is to fill plastic soda bottles with water and then place them in the freezer.
Once the water is frozen, you can half-bury the bottles in the ground somewhere shady and place a towel over the top.
The towel will then provide a cool spot for the chicken to sit when the heat of the day becomes too much.
14. Take them inside
During a severe heatwave, if your chickens are visibly distressed by the heat, you can also take them inside your air-conditioned home.
This might seem a little extreme, but if the temperatures are too hot for your birds, it’s preferable to do this than to leave them to suffer outside.
If possible, you can convert a suitable room like a spare bathroom into a temporary chicken sanctuary to help keep them safe and cool until the worst of the hot temperatures pass.
Take actions to keep your birds happy and comfortable in summer
As we’ve seen, when temperatures reach above 80°F, your chickens will rely on you to help them stay cool, and fortunately, there are quite a few simple actions you can take to do this.
Keep an eye on your chickens’ behavior and stay alert to the signs of heatstroke, and as long as you provide plenty of shade and water – and use some of the other techniques we’ve suggested – your chickens won’t suffer unnecessarily, even in the hottest weather.